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Top CEOs dig in for prolonged trade friction

A businessman digging a trench in the shape of a dollar sign
Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

The CEOs of IBM, JPMorgan and Cummins, the major engine manufacturer, have a gloomy outlook on what’s ahead for U.S. business if President Trump doesn’t back down on tariffs.

Why it matters: The executives said at a Business Roundtable event Wednesday that conflict with China is prompting decisions with long-term consequences — like how to shift supply chains — and the effects may show up in the economy, as companies rein in plans for spending and hiring.

  • Tom Linebarger, CEO of Cummins: "The taxes from tariffs have now outgrown the benefits from the tax reform act. Our net taxes are higher."
  • Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase: "I think the biggest self-inflicted risk to growth today would be trade going south."
  • Ginni Rometty, IBM CEO: The "biggest risk, generally speaking, for businesses is when there is too much uncertainty."

Details: Cummins has already sacrificed business because of trade tensions between the U.S. and China, plus the company is reeling from uncertainty as the USMCA — the proposed replacement for NAFTA — hangs in the balance.

  • "We export a small number of engines from China, and we could not find a new source for those," Linebarger said. "We essentially lost that business."

The backdrop: The trade war is ramping up at a time when the juice from the tax cuts looks to be fading and the economic cycle is feared to be nearing an end.

  • Per Quartz, Cummins will take a $150 million hit from the tariffs on an annualized basis which would wipe out the company’s gains from the tax cut, Shannon Kiely Heider, the company’s director for international government relations, said.

What they're saying:

  • Linebarger: "In some cases, we have tried to find suppliers outside of China that can supply us the same goods, because it's been sustained long enough that we can find new suppliers. The biggest challenge with finding new supply locations is it takes time."
  • Rometty: "For us it did not make a change. It was just re-insuring where we had different and multiple sources."

What's next? The CEOs are not looking to the G20 Summit in Japan in late June as a watershed moment.

  • "I don't think anyone expects [a deal with China] by June 29," when Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet at the gathering of the world's leaders, Dimon says.
  • "We don't see the G20 as any kind of milestone other than, of course, I hope the two meet and talk and keep their relationship open," Linebarger says.

Go deeper: Business "freak out" spurs plans to tame Trump on trade