Futures lower on unsettled global markets as trade war fears escalate

Futures lower on unsettled global markets as trade war fears escalate”

China said it doesn't fear a trade war with the United States and announced plans for reciprocal tariffs on $3 billion of imports from the U.S. in the first response to President Donald Trump's ordering of levies on Chinese metal exports. Yet there are still concerns that tariffs aren't the best tool available to President Trump if he wants to even the playing field of US-China trade.

China plans tariffs on imports of United States pork imports, recycled aluminium, steel pipes, fruit and wine, according to a Commerce Ministry statement on Friday.

The $3 billion worth of goods that Beijing planned to penalize represented just about 2 per cent of USA exports to China, which amounted to $130 billion in 2017, said Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in the US.

The Shanghai Composite index closed down 3.6 percent at 3,152.76 points, its lowest close since Feb 9.

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Soybean futures for May delivery fell as much as 2 percent to $10.0925 a bushel on the Chicago Board of Trade, the lowest for the contract since February 12. South Korea's KOSPI retreated 2 percent.

The dollar fell towards a one-month low against major currencies while the Vix volatility index, known as the "fear gauge", jumped above 25, its highest since the market turmoil at the start of the year. On Friday chipmakers fared especially badly.

The China tariffs usher in a trade showdown that has been long expected by President Trump's base, whom were frequently told that China would be punished for its unfair trade practices during the 2016 presidential campaign.

A tit-for-tat escalation of trade retaliation, coupled with Trump's desire to "look tough on China" will make it harder for the two sides to settle their differences, said Eswar Prasad, a professor of trade policy at Cornell University and a former head of the International Monetary Fund's China department. Technology stocks have made enormous gains over the past year, but since they do so much business outside the US, investors see them as particularly vulnerable in a trade dispute. "If the USA imposes tariffs on China like that, I think there would be some damage on us in the long term as well".

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The market's two biggest sectors slumped the most.

After a seven-month investigation, the office of the US Trade Representative concluded that China hurts US technology companies in a variety of ways.

Commodities did not fare well, either. The dollar was down more than 1 percent on the week. Tencent fell more than 4 percent after Naspers Ltd. revealed a plan to cut its stake in the Chinese internet giant. Beijing promised to fight a trade war "to the end".

The Communist Party-run tabloid Global Times said Beijing wouldn't blink in a trade war. The Dow slid 2.9%, and is now 10% below the record high hit earlier in 2018. The $50 billion tariff package does just that, and perhaps more importantly for the long-term is that it shifts US-China relations to more openly antagonistic ground.

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Wei Jianguo, a former vice commerce minister, said China already has a second and third list of possible tariffs ready. Retaliatory tariffs on USA exports won't affect them as much. "The risk of expectations being firmed up for RMB depreciation is not desirable for China which tries to promote RMB status and assets", analysts at Westpac said in a note.

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