Stocks tumble, bonds and yen gain as trade war fears intensify

Drop in asset prices come after Trump announces tariffs on China

A man (front) reads a newspaper while keeping an eye on stock price movements at a securities company in Beijing on March 23, 2018.
Hong Kong and mainland Chinese stocks plunged at open on March 23 on growing fears of a global trade war after Donald Trump imposed billions of dollars of tariffs on Chinese imports and Beijing drew up a list of retaliatory measures. / AFP PHOTO / NICOLAS ASFOURI

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 China retaliated with a pledge to fight to the end of any such war.

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

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 broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 2.2 per cent as stocks across the region dropped.

Shanghai shares were down 3.3 per cent.

“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.”

Australian stocks lost 2.1 per cent and Japan's Nikkei dropped 4.1 per cent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 2.8 per cent, Taiwan shares slid 1.7 per cent and South Korea's KOPSI retreated 2.3 per cent.

“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 on Thursday shed 2.9 per cent, the S&P 500 dropped 2.5 per cent and the Nasdaq fell 2.4 per cent.

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 per cent 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 per cent to 89.609. It has lost roughly 0.7 per cent 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 per cent, its lowest in six weeks.

The 10-year Japanese government bond yield dipped to a four-month trough of 0.020 per cent.

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 per cent at $64.99 per barrel after losing 1.3 per cent on Thursday and Brent gained 0.9 per cent to $69.53 per barrel.

Safe-haven spot gold rose to $1,339.05 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.