Business Report Plus: Threat of trade war looms

  • Threat of trade war continues to wreak havoc with the stock market
  • China is New Jersey’s fourth largest export market
  • Job growth nationally slows in March
  • More companies fall victim to data breaches
  • Nuclear subsidy bill clears first hurdle

The stock market ended this week the same way it did last week — with extreme volatility based on the latest headlines about trade. Late in the week, President Trump threatened China with $100 billion in additional tariffs, after China issued its own tariff threat against the U.S. Meantime, both countries are holding ongoing trade talks.

Sometimes its hard to make sense of the headlines and the politics behind them, but it’s easy to look at the numbers, which tell their own story. The International Trade Agency, which is part of the U.S. Commerce Department, puts out state-by-state statistics on foreign trade.

According to that agency, New Jersey exported $34.5 billion in products in 2017. Of that amount, $1.6 billion was exported to China, which is the fourth-largest export market for New Jersey products, behind Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom. The business of trade supports thousands of jobs in the state. New Jersey’s top export is chemicals, which is a product targeted by China. Arthur Guarino, a professor at Rutgers Business School, talked about how tariffs would impact the state.

The headlines were confusing this week when it came to jobs and the U.S. economy. On Friday, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said job growth in March totaled 103,000, which was well below expectations. A few days earlier, Roseland-based ADP reported job growth in March was much stronger than that. So what gives? Data fluctuates from month to month, and the data collection isn’t a precise science. In fact, each month the government revises the numbers reported in the prior months. So economists always examine trends, and they say the trend of steady job growth remains very much intact.

“The current economic expansion, which began in June 2009, is now in its 106th month, tying it for the second-longest expansion in U.S. economic history,” said Gus Fauscher, the chief economist at the PNC Financial Services Group. “With the solid job market, it has a decent shot of becoming the longest expansion ever; the current longest expansion lasted 120 months, from 1991 to 2001.”

You’d think there’s a big market for security jobs, based on all the news about data breaches this week. Numerous retailers, including Lord & Taylor and Sears, reported breaches. But the big one was Facebook, which admitted it failed to protect the data of up to 87 million of its users from being accessed by political research firm Cambridge Analytica. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told PBS NewsHour’s Judy Woodruff that the company is making changes.

“Starting Monday, we will begin rolling out to everyone in the world on Facebook at the top of their news feed a very clear and easy way to see what apps they have shared their data with and an easy way to delete those. And as part of that, we are going to let people know if their data might have been accessed by Cambridge Analytica.”

Next week, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, goes before Congress to explain what happened at his company.

Also next week, a contentious bill on PSEG ratepayer subsidies could be voted on by the full Legislature. State lawmakers in separate committee advanced legislation that would allow PSEG to collect $300 million annually from ratepayers to cover financial costs of its nuclear plants. The utility would first have to prove financial need to the state BPU.

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