Tariffs are about to hit consumers, and it won't be pretty 

Key Points
  • If the $200 billion of tariffs against China are implemented as planned, consumers could see price increases of 20 percent, according to an analysis by Societe Generale.
  • The Trump administration's latest plan targets a list heavily weighted toward consumer goods. The earlier tariffs targeted mostly industrial and intermediate goods.

Tariffs the White House has levied thus far have fallen primarily on industrial supplies and components of other goods. That's about to change, and consumers will feel the bite if the tariffs are implemented as planned.

Economists at Societe Generale estimate that the $200 billion under consideration against Chinese goods will raise consumer prices significantly.

The forecast comes amid news that trade tensions may be easing with Europe. A European Union official told Dow Jones on Wednesday that President Donald Trump has secured concessions that would avoid a trade war between the two parties.

Still, the issues with China continue.

Items such as furniture, air conditioning units and vacuum cleaners all will get costlier as part of a list of duties the administration said it will impose if no progress is made on the U.S.-China talks. Of that group, about $45 billion comes directly from finished products common in many homes that will face 10 percent tariffs, according to SocGen.

Doing the math, SocGen economist Omair Sharif estimates that the tariffs will add 0.45 percentage points to the core consumer price index, or the reading of the closely watched inflation measure that excludes volatile food and energy prices. The impact would be about 2 basis points more for the headline reading.

Sharif called it a "substantial move" considering the most recent core CPI gain was 2.3 percent. Assuming the analysis is correct, that translates to a nearly 20 percent rise in the index.

"As we saw with tariffs on laundry equipment this year, tariffs on household appliances could ripple through into retail prices relatively quickly," Sharif wrote. "In short, it would result in a supply shock."

Because of the nature of economic data, where levels are compared on a year-over-year basis, the upward pop in the CPI would last 12 months after the tariffs hit.

Sharif predicted the tariffs likely would take effect in mid-October, based on the three-month lag it took the current $34 billion of tariffs to take effect from the time they were introduced.

Shoppers look at merchandise at a Ikea store in Paramus, New Jersey.
Stephen Chernin | Getty Images

As for individual items, furniture looks to be the area most impacted.

The U.S. imports $18.6 billion worth of furniture listed on the proposed tariffs, with China accounting for $11.5 billion. Of the appliance items listed, the U.S. imports about $5.6 billion each year, with $3.8 billion coming from China.

Looking at the top 10 items on the tariff list in dollar value, China has a market share of more than 50 percent for nine of them, and a share exceeding 70 percent for four.

"For those goods, it may be harder to find a new market to import from, or at the very least it may take longer, putting those items at a greater disadvantage," Sharif said. "These are the items that may also see a quicker pass-through from tariffs into retail prices."

While consumers will be hit with higher prices, Sharif said he doubts the inflation injection will cause the Fed to hike interest rates faster than planned.

The central bank also has indicated it will raise its benchmark funds rate twice more this year and up to three times in 2019. Moreover, Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has indicated that he'd be inclined to dismiss temporary or "supply shocks" and not react to short-term inflation from the tariffs.