Thursday, March 23, 2023

We’re history buffs here at Calcbench. So when the U.S.-China trade war turned five years old today, we decided to celebrate — with a bit of financial research!

It was March 2018 when then-president Donald Trump announced that he would impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, primarily as an action against China. Trump signed an executive order to that effect on March 8, and the tariffs formally went into effect March 23. So did the trade war.

The United States and China then lobbed a series of tariffs on each other and engaged in negotiations to end the war. The history of who promised to make what concessions is long and convoluted, and the war kinda sorta paused in 2020 as the covid pandemic started.

Many of the Trump-era tariffs remain in place today, and U.S. companies have even more restrictions, especially around semiconductors and other technology. (The Trade Talk podcast is an excellent resource if you want to nerd out on trade policy. Its most recent episode walks through the trade war’s history.)

Anyway, back to our celebration of financial data. We decided to use our Segments, Rollforwards, and Breakouts page to see which S&P 500 firms report significant revenues from the China market. We picked 15 companies with the largest reported revenue, and compared 2018 to 2022.  The result is Figure 1, below.

Companies that saw a decline in the portion of total revenue coming from China are shaded in red. Don’t bother squinting: it’s nine of the 15 firms, and six of those nine are in the semiconductor sector.

Total revenue for our group grew 29 percent from 2018 to 2022. Total revenue specifically from China, however, grew only 24.4 percent — slower, but not that much slower considering there’s a war on.

We should also stress that the 15 companies in our sample are only a small glimpse into overall U.S.-China trade. Several U.S. companies with significant sales to China (Boeing and Starbucks, for example), have odd fiscal year-ends and haven’t yet reported 2022 sales.

Many other companies also report China as part of a larger geographic segment — “Asia Pacific,” for example, or “China and Japan,” or some other segment. We didn’t include those firms since there’s no easy way to pinpoint China revenues. The 15 above all have segments that simply say “China.”

You can, of course, conduct your own analysis of companies’ overseas revenue, either by using the Segments page or by sifting through the segment disclosures companies make in the footnotes via our Interactive Disclosure tool.

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