Blog: Tech CEOs Silent on Trade War Depradation

Article By : Brian Santo

Six hundred companies sent a letter to President Donald Trump deploring his tariffs. There's a nearly complete lack of technology companies among the signatories.

Six hundred companies and trade associations sent a public letter titled Tariffs Hurt the Heartland to President Donald Trump deploring his tariffs. There’s a nearly complete lack of technology companies among the signatories.

The letter says the tariffs are not working (see excerpt below). In fact, the letter reminds us that the President doesn’t understand how tariffs work, an alarming bit of news previously verified by his own advisors.

News outlets have focused on the largest companies that did sign. Examples include Columbia Sportswear, Costco, Levi Strauss, Gap, Macy’s, PetSmart, Target and Walmart, among other retailers. Also prominent were four of the 10 biggest ports in the U.S (Los Angeles, Long Beach, Seattle-Tacoma, Oakland).

Others who signed include a handful of fireworks companies, a couple of kayak makers, and some operation called It’s not that they’re unimportant but…

…Well, yeah, upon further consideration, when it comes to national politics, they are unimportant. It’s not the press’ fault that if you want to be taken seriously by this particular President you need to be one of two things: obsequiously sycophantic, or too big to be dismissed with a derisive tweet.

Wall of shame
The companies most seriously affected by the tariffs are electronics companies, including some of the biggest companies in the world. Did Intel or Qualcomm sign? No. Cisco or Microsoft? No. Apple, Amazon, AT&T, Boeing, Oracle, IBM, Facebook, Raytheon, AMD, GM, Danaher, Nvidia, John Deere, Verizon, Accenture, Applied Materials? No, no, no, no, and no.

The only high-tech company thus far to speak out? Broadcom – more or less because it was legally compelled to mention it. But it’s not like it soft-pedaled the news either. The company late on Thursday said during its Q2 conference call with analysts that the trade war was going to reduce its sales this year by $2 billion. As this was being written, trading was still open on Wall Street and the company’s stock was down about $16, or about 5.7%.   

To be fair, several industry trade groups signed the letter. The Computer & Communications (CCIA), the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). The Consumer Technology Association (CTA). The Information Technology Industry Council (ITI).

Broadcom’s $2B Trade War Exhortation

That’s several groups representing literally thousands of high tech companies boldly speaking together with four voices – along with the Greeting Card Association and the Juice Products Association.

You think you’re saying something through your trade association? Donald Trump is from New York City. You know what a New Yorker thinks about you lending your practically anonymous identity to a trade group hardly anybody pays attention to? I’m from New York City. I guarantee you he thinks you’re a bunch of pussies. had the courage to sign the letter. You want to say something to a New Yorker, then say it. Otherwise you’ve said nothing.

Or maybe that’s the point. I mean, what can the silence of America’s most influential high-tech CEOs mean?

There are several possibilities.

  • They all think they can profit from the disruption. We’ve heard from a few smaller companies talking about making lemonade from lemons, but we’ve yet to hear a single large high-tech company guaranteeing Trump’s tariffs will result in increased business. Of course, if anyone believes that, we won’t hear about it. No CEO is stupid enough to crow about his company gaining from other Americans’ difficulties.
  •  Maybe some of them think they can profit from the disruption, and some of them don’t. Perhaps the problem is that the ones that don’t are being careful to not aggravate the ones that do.
  • Maybe I’m jumping the gun. Maybe all the CEOs of the big high-tech companies are gathering signatures on a similar letter right now. Believe that when you see it.
  • Maybe they’re lobbying furiously behind the scenes. You know what lobbying furiously behind the scenes means with this President? Zip. Nada. Bubkis. He’s a New Yorker; he doesn’t pay attention to anything but public statements. If you’re relying on lobbyists you’re all a bunch of pussies.
  • Maybe all the high-tech CEOs think they can ride this out. The situation has got to get better right? Right? Because how many months has it been now of it either not getting better or getting worse? This President literally does not know what he’s doing; the companies who signed that letter said so in print. If you’re a high-tech CEO – say, for example, Tim Apple – you might have even seen this in person. Time to stop being pussies.
  • Trump could retaliate against your company directly and make things worse. Don’t be pussies.
  • Investors will punish the stock. Here’s the thing: if you start losing revenue, they’re going to notice eventually, and investors will punish your stock when you’re finally obligated to say so. Might as well suck it up now. Don’t be pussies.

 So I’m looking at that list and it boils down to some-or-all of America’s high-tech CEOs hoping to profit from American citizens paying for Trump’s tariffs, or you’re all a bunch of pussies – Broadcom excepted.

See something, say something.
The term “supply chain” is inadequate for the interdependencies in international trade. There are customer relationships, supplier relationships, assembly deals, all involving components, boards, subsystems, chips, full systems, raw materials. If that’s a problem, all of your voices have to be raised. The disruption is extraordinary. Broadcom CEO Hock Tan said the problem isn’t just losing Huawei as a customer.  “Basically, a compression of supply chain is what’s driving this reduction more than anything else. And it’s broad based,” Tan said.

Remain silent now, and the next time the high-tech industry warns of the scary prospect of “uncertainty” ever again, the entire rest of the world gets to laugh in your faces.

I want to hear from CEOs. Our opinion page is open to them, but anywhere else would be just fine. If you’re not a CEO and you want to comment about what you think CEOs think, or what you think CEOs should think, or what you think the press should think about what you think about what CEOs are thinking, or any variation thereof, the President is not interested, nor is Walmart or Broadcom or, nor am I. Anyone who thinks the companies that signed that letter are mistaken or lying about any of it needs to take it up with them – and that includes the CEOs of high-tech companies who didn’t sign that letter. I want to hear from CEOs. Not vice presidents. Not PR people. CEOs. Say what you have to say, and say it in print. Here or in a public letter.

If what’s going on right now is as disruptive to your business as it is to everyone else’s, if you agree with your peers in retail and shipping that these tariffs are ineffective and you think it’s a bad thing that your customers and employees are paying for them, and you know that it’s going to affect your sales just as they’re going to affect Broadcom’s, then say it now, when it matters, in a way that matters – together and out loud.

From the “Tariffs Hurt the Heartland” letter

We remain concerned about the escalation of tit-for-tat tariffs. We know firsthand that the additional tariffs will have a significant, negative and long-term impact on American businesses, farmers, families and the U.S. economy. Broadly applied tariffs are not an effective tool to change China’s unfair trade practices. Tariffs are taxes paid directly by U.S. companies, including those listed below — not China. According to Trade Partnership Worldwide LLC, 25 percent tariffs on an additional $300 billion in imports (combined with the impact of already implemented tariffs and retaliation) would result in the loss of more than 2 million U.S. jobs, add more than $2,000 in costs for the average American family of four and reduce the value of U.S. GDP by 1.0 percent. Furthermore, we have seen repeatedly that tariff increases and uncertainty around these trade negotiations have created turmoil in the markets, threatening our historic economic growth.


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