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Trump might not need to hear much to strike a truce with China: Senior official

Key Points
  • U.S. President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping will meet Saturday at the G-20 summit to talk trade.
  • A White House official told CNBC that it might not take much to at least reach a truce in the tit-for-tat trade war.
  • Trump is closely watching the stock market for reaction to the various developments, the official said.

President Donald Trump wouldn't need to hear much from Chinese officials to at least strike a truce in the trade war between the two sides, a senior administration official told CNBC.

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to meet Saturday at the G-20 meeting in Osaka, Japan, with expectations running high that the two leaders can strike some bargain that at least puts the tit-for-tat tariff exchange on hold.

Administration officials differ on whether a truce can be struck. However, one official said that some type of respite in the tensions is the baseline case in the White House and that truce talk is more than speculation.

One official said that Trump is closely watching the stock market, which has stumbled through the week amid rampant speculation over what will happen at the summit. The market was set to open higher Friday but is on its way to a loss for the week after three straight weeks of gains.

The official also said that the main thing that would void a truce would be if Xi said he would not be willing to enforce any deal or write it into Chinese law.

Trump is meeting with other officials at the summit but has continued to tweet about a variety of matters, including the Democratic presidential debates, and his view on the markets.

Markets have been mostly optimistic lately about the prospects for a deal, though investors have been sensitive to negative headlines that have come out of the developments over the past year.

The negotiations have run in cycles, with tensions running high followed by easing and then renewed hostilities.

The U.S. is seeking to reduce a trade deficit with China that hit $419.5 billion in 2018, a nearly 12% increase despite Trump's efforts to use tariffs to reduce the gap. The administration has levied 25% tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports and Trump has threatened to impose duties on the rest of the $300 billion or so of goods that flow into the U.S.

While the markets might view a truce as positive, there's not much expectation for major developments at the G-20 meeting.

"Consensus expects can-kicking, but no rolling back of tariffs that are already in place. With above-trend economic growth and the S&P 500 at an all-time high, there is no sense of urgency on the part of the US to reach an agreement," Savita Subramanian, equity and quant strategist at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said in a research note.

A "real deal" between the two sides could propel the S&P 500 to 3,100, or about 6% higher from its Thursday close, while additional tariffs have the potential to send the index 5% lower, Subramanian said.

—This story was reported by Kayla Tausche and written by Jeff Cox.