What really happened on Friday with the Chinese and Montana? Why did it come out that the Chinese cancelled the meeting with farmers in Bozeman when it actually was Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, as we learned on Monday in an awkward press conference with the president?
If you roll back the tape, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up about 25 points when the news came out. The Dow then plummeted from 27,157 to 26,949 almost instantly because if the Chinese did indeed cancel the farm visit along with a second visit to Omaha, then things really were off the rails.
After all, anything that causes Han Jun, the vice minister for Agricultural and Rural Affairs, to cut short his trip and head home is a sign that there won't be any deal anytime soon, including a much-hoped-for agriculture deal that signals the Chinese want something bigger.
I've gone over every bit of news about this cancellation and it seems as if Nicole Rolf, the Montana Farm Bureau Federation's director of national affairs, is the person who at least implied that the Chinese were to blame, and the Chinese didn't contradict it. Somehow one of the lower-level officials in this nation became the linchpin to the chain of information that caused the market to plummet.
This is not right.
You should not have Nicole Rolf be the person who disseminates incredibly important news and you should not have the entire trade narrative hang on Nicole Rolf -- despite her terrific national affairs title -- when the entire stock market's direction is hanging on these talks.
Consider the totally bizarre interaction between President Trump and Secretary Mnuchin about Montana and the cancellation of the Montana meeting. It's pretty clear the president accepted Nicole Rolf's statement that the Chinese were to blame. How the heck is that possible? How could no one clue in the president it was our side, not their side, that ended the goodwill mission? Who let Nicole Rolf be the spokesperson for the United States of America? Who just trusted the Chinese when they said the trip was cut short?
A few weeks ago we had an incident occur where Trump said he had a couple good phone calls with the Chinese over a weekend. Immediately the Chinese denied there were calls and the president was branded a liar by the mainstream press.
Now consider this cancellation. Once again the press makes it sound like the Chinese are in charge of the process. Except this time, Mnuchin did not issue a statement countering Rolf. How the heck did that happen?
I think the Montana story, which got almost no follow-up press, even in Bozeman, shows how murky this process is. I remember the moment the false news broke that China cancelled the farm trip. Given that we were expecting high-level talks this week with the Chinese, it showed there would be no progress and the market was correct to sell off. How could Mnuchin not know the market was getting crushed by this? How could Treasury not understand the implications of its own actions?
I come back and say that if you wanted to sabotage the talks, then blame the Chinese for abstaining from a meet-and-greet with farmers when we were responsible for it.
The president and the market deserve better than this misdirection play. The market is coming back now because Nicole Rolf's China slam is being upended.
My ultimate takeaway? Don't believe there will be a deal until there is a deal. You can't have the Montana farm bureau in charge of such a high-level issue. Or at least tell the president what's really going on. What is Mnuchin's game here?
I wish I knew.
I wish he knew.