There’s no question that some U.S. companies are feeling the bite of the trade war that the Trump administration is waging against much of the world.

As others have reported, a Missouri nail factory is laying off people because of tariffs on imported steel; Harley-Davidson plans to move some production to Europe in response to retaliatory tariffs; soybean farmers face a loss of income resulting from new Chinese import taxes.

But it is a mistake to assume that difficulties of individual companies and industries are the same as a force powerful enough to bend the overall trajectory of the U.S. economy.

To assess how the trade war could affect growth, the job market and inflation at the macroeconomic level, you need data. The trouble is that much economic data operates with long time lags. By the time there would be solid evidence that the trade war was doing damage, the damage would already have been done.

But certain indicators are likely to provide early signs of trouble: data that is more big picture than individual anecdotes, but more timely than things like gross domestic product and the unemployment rate.

The closest thing to a real-time indicator of the trade war’s possible effect on corporate profits is the stock market. Another of the key ways trade tensions can slow a nation’s overall growth is by causing businesses to pull back on capital expenditures. 

Read more in the Milwaukee Business Journal.