Jan 24, 2019

The trade war didn't kill U.S. companies with Chinese exposure

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

U.S. companies with significant exposure to China have seen their stocks tumble since President Trump's opening salvo in the trade war. But it wasn't really China or the oft-invoked trade tensions that hurt those companies.

The big picture: Chipmakers like Skyworks, Qorvo, Qualcomm and Micron, along with Wynn Resorts, top the list of S&P 500 companies that make their biggest share of revenue in China, according to data compiled by Goldman Sachs. All of those stocks are deeply in the red since Trump took the first steps toward a full-blown trade war on Jan. 22.

  • Yes, but: An Axios analysis shows shareholders weren't punishing these companies because of their exposure to China. Fourteen of the top 20 companies most exposed to China are semiconductors — an industry that suffered during this period, thanks to a sector-wide slowdown. Those stocks fared no worse than an exchange-traded fund tracking the industry, which fell 14%.
  • Semiconductors were bound to suffer, regardless of a trade war, thanks to slowing demand for memory chips, rising inventory levels and falling prices, Sebastian Hou, an analyst at CLSA, told CNBC last year.

More consumer-focused companies like Nike (which nets 12% of of its revenue from Greater China) saw their stock prices increase, in line with the consumer discretionary sector which outperformed the broader market.

Rather than a broad-based China slowdown, data shows individual companies saw largely individual results.

  • Shares of Advanced Micro Devices (AMD), which generates about 30% of its sales in China, jumped almost 60% since last year — bucking the downtrend of its semiconductor counterparts. Analysts say the rise is largely due to the possibility that AMD was taking market share from longtime players like Intel.
  • Qualcomm's stock suffered after its merger with Broadcom was killed by the Trump administration, showing its "aggressive stance on perceived threats from foreign investors and the growing technological might of China," as Axios reported last year.
  • Wynn Resorts significantly underperformed other consumer discretionary stocks. But its shares took a major hit earlier last year after longtime CEO Steve Wynn resigned following sexual misconduct allegations.

What they're saying: Count executives at Texas Instruments — which gets 44% of its revenue from Greater China — among those who say the trade war isn't to blame for their struggles.

  • After the company missed third quarter estimates, CFO Rafael Lizardi said the lackluster results were "mostly driven by a slowdown in semiconductors" and smartphone sales, not a macro-driven event, like trade. (Texas Instruments did better in its most recent quarter.)

The bottom line: Companies with big exposure to China can point to a wide range of issues, not necessarily the trade war, for the pain in their stocks.

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