China Economy

US-China trade war worries are 'overdone,' says CLSA CEO

Key Points
  • Jonathan Slone, CEO of brokerage and investment group CLSA, said fears about the U.S.-China trade war are  "overdone."
  • Investors are beginning to understand "the picture is much more complex than just this noise that we hear over trade," he said.
US-China trade worries are 'overdone,' says CLSA's Slone

Worries about the U.S.-China trade war are overdone because the impact on China will not be as immediate and challenging as many investors expect, according to the chief executive of a widely followed investment group.

"It takes a long time to move trade flows. China has industries that are going to be there for a long time, they're not easily movable," said Jonathan Slone, CEO of brokerage and investment group CLSA.

He pointed to the case of Asia's second-largest economy as an example of trade's tendency to stay in established routes: "Everybody thought, Japan, they're going to lose their industrial base when the yen went to 110 (to the dollar) ... that hasn't happened."

Speaking to CNBC's Akiko Fujita at the 2018 CLSA Investors' Forum in Hong Kong, he added: "These trade flows are much more significantly entrenched in China than (some) think."

Fears of trade tensions escalating rose on Friday when U.S. President Donald Trump warned he was ready to impose tariffs on another $267 billion of Chinese goods, on top of the $200 billion in duties that he had already threatened to slap on China.

Talks last month between the two economic powerhouses aimed at easing tensions, but they did not see major breakthroughs. Trump said last week he was not prepared to make a deal with China "that they'd like to make." Still, he added, his administration will "continue to talk to China."

Containers are transported at a port in Lianyungang, China.
AFP | Getty Images

Slone told CNBC, however, that trade concerns are "overdone." Investors are beginning to understand "the picture is much more complex than just this noise that we hear over trade," he said.

In fact, the CLSA chief said, the trade war could actually be a boon to some of Chinese President Xi Jinping's goals.

"It actually pushes some of the themes that he wants — going up the value-added chain, Made in China, bringing in more robots, more mechanization," Slone said. "China at the same time is keeping quite tight reins on the money, so there's no panic there."

China has been on a mission to move toward high-tech industries, with its Made in China 2025 plan seeking to establish manufacturing strength in areas such as robotics and electric vehicles. The strategy aims to move the country beyond fabricating and exporting basic goods such as clothing and consumer electronics.

"The transformation you're going to see in China over the next three years, they are not making garments in many cases anymore. Those are moving out already, and they want that to happen," Slone said.

He added: "Don't forget, they are running out of workers. Don't forget they have a demographic challenge, so they're actually changing their industrial policy to fit in with the secular change you're seeing in those overall trade negotiations."

— CNBC's Liz Moyer contributed to this story.