Stocks tumble, bonds and yen gain as trade war fears drive rush to safety

Image: A man is seen against an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

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By Shinichi Saoshiro

TOKYO (Reuters) – The rumblings of a global trade war shook stock and currency markets on Friday after U.S. President Donald Trump announced long-promised tariffs on Chinese goods and Beijing pledged to fight any such war to the end.

Spreadbetters expected European stocks to open lower, with Britain’s FTSE losing 0.9 percent, Germany’s DAX falling 1.6 percent and France’s CAC shedding 1.5 percent.

S&P futures were down 0.6 percent, suggesting a weaker open on Wall Street later in the day.

Trump signed a presidential memorandum on Thursday that could impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of imports from China, although they have a 30-day consultation period, raising the chance that final measures could be watered down.

Investors fear that the U.S. measures could escalate into a trade war, with potentially dire consequences for the global economy.

Beijing urged the United States on Friday to “pull back from the brink”.

“China doesn’t hope to be in a trade war, but is not afraid of engaging in one,” the Chinese commerce ministry said in a statement.

China unveiled its own plans on Friday to impose tariffs on up to $3 billion of U.S. imports in retaliation against U.S. tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum products.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 2.5 percent as stocks across the region dropped. For the week, the index recoiled over 4 percent.

Shanghai shares were down 3.8 percent.

“The economic impact on both China and the U.S. will be determined by what form the tariffs end up taking. The effects are likely to be felt more strongly in the U.S. and will increase both consumer and producer prices,” wrote Hannah Anderson, global market strategist at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

“The equity market will bear the brunt of the market reaction. Most impacted will be the U.S., Korea, and Taiwan as companies domiciled in these markets make up a significant portion of the global production chain of Chinese exports.”

Japan’s Nikkei dropped 4.5 percent.

Australian stocks lost 1.9 percent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 3.1 percent, Taiwan shares slid 1.6 percent and South Korea’s KOSPI retreated almost 3 percent.

“A possible trade war between the United States and China is especially serious for the South Korean economy as it could directly or indirectly affect the country’s trade with them as well,” said Se Sang-young, an analyst at Kiwoom Securities.

Setting a downbeat tone for Asia, the Dow <.DJI> on Thursday shed 2.9 percent, the S&P 500 dropped 2.5 percent and the Nasdaq fell 2.4 percent.

As equities took a beating, the yen, often sought in times of market turmoil, rallied against the dollar.

The greenback fell roughly 0.5 percent to as low as 104.635 yen, its weakest since November 2016. The dollar was down more than 1 percent on the week.

“In the longer run, protectionist policies touted by the United States could be watered down, in turn limiting the negative effect on trade and the global economy,” said Masafumi Yamamoto, chief forex strategist at Mizuho Securities in Tokyo, referring to the U.S. decision to exempt some countries from steel and aluminum tariffs.

“But until the United States makes such concessions, global stocks will be under pressure and the yen will appreciate, especially if China decides to confront the U.S. measures.”

The euro was 0.3 percent higher at $1.2334.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies slipped 0.3 percent to 89.615. It has lost roughly 0.7 percent this week, weighed down by a steady decline in U.S. Treasury yields.

Yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury fell 7.5 basis points overnight as bond prices rose on jitters gripping the broader financial markets.

The yield fell further on Friday to 2.792 percent, its lowest in six weeks.

The 10-year Japanese government bond (JGB) yield dipped to a four-month trough of 0.020 percent.

In commodities, oil prices recouped overnight losses after Saudi Arabia said that OPEC and Russian-led production curbs introduced in 2017 will need to be extended into 2019.

U.S. crude futures were up 1.1 percent at $64.99 per barrel after losing 1.3 percent on Thursday and Brent gained 0.9 percent to $69.53.

Safe-haven spot gold rose to $1,339.12 an ounce, highest since March 7.

Other commodities did not fare as well amid the trade war fears, with copper on the London Metal Exchange falling to a three-month low of $6,628.00 per ton.

Iron ore futures on China’s Dalian Commodity Exchange lost more than 5 percent.

(Reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro; Additional reporting by Dahee Kim in Seoul; Editing by Eric Meijer, Richard Borsuk and Kim Coghill)

Copyright 2018 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.


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