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After the last big trade war — NY dockworkers, 1934. Photo: Lewis Hines / National Archives

Europe is preparing 25% tariffs on U.S. goods from Levi's to Harley Davidson bikes in a sign of brewing retaliation for President Trump's imposition of a levy on foreign steel, and economists are warning of a sharp hit to the global economy and markets.

Why it matters: Economists tell Axios that, should Trump proceed with his 25% steel tariffs, and tit-for-tat retaliation cascade, there is serious risk of a blow to global GDP growth, which the International Monetary Fund had forecast at 3.9% for 2018 and 2019.

Already, U.S. metals prices have surged since Trump's announcement. Aluminum, for instance, soared to a three-year high this morning, up by 11.8% since the president spoke, report the FT's Henry Sanderson and Neil Hume.

John Ferguson, director of global forecasting for the Economist Intelligence Unit, tells Axios that, even short of a full-fledged trade war, a low-grade exchange of high tariffs could trigger prolonged stock market declines such as happened yesterday and today.

That could cascade this way:

  1. Companies pull back capital spending plans
  2. Consumers, with less money in their pocket than expected, curtail their spending
  3. Global GDP growth, reliant on capital and consumer spending, suffers.

In one example of this already happening, Sweden's Electrolux announced it will hold off on a $250 million expansion of its appliance manufacturing plant in Springfield, TN., because of the tariffs, reports Rick Rothacker of the Charlotte Observer.

"The impacts could add up to a meaningful slowdown in global GDP," Ferguson said.

Go deeper: Winners and losers in the trade crisis

This post has been updated with the postponement of Electrolux's investment.

Go deeper

Updated 28 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Inauguration Day dashboard

Screenshot: Fox News

President Trump has delivered a farewell speech and departed Washington for the last time on Air Force One, kicking off the day that will culminate with President-elect Joe Biden taking office.

What's next: The inaugural celebration for young Americans is being livestreamed, starting at 10am.

Updated 45 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump departs on final Air Force One flight

President Trump and his family took off on Air Force One at 9 a.m. on Wednesday morning for the final time en route to Florida.

The big picture: Trump's final hours as president were punctuated by his decisions to snub his successor's inauguration and grant pardons to many of his allies who have been swept up in corruption scandals.

Dion Rabouin, author of Markets
2 hours ago - Economy & Business

Janet Yellen said all the right things to reassure the markets

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Treasury Secretary nominee and former Fed chair Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday showed markets just what they can expect from the administration of President-elect Joe Biden: more of what they got under President Trump — at least for now.

What it means: Investors and big companies reaped the benefits of ultralow U.S. interest rates and low taxes for most of Trump's term as well as significant increases in government spending, even before the coronavirus pandemic.