A sell-off in Chinese stocks drove Asian equities to a four-month low on Tuesday as US President Donald Trump threatened new tariffs on Chinese goods in an escalating tit-for-tat trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.
Trump warned on Monday that Washington would impose a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods after Beijing’s decision to raise tariffs on $50 billion in U.S. goods, which was in retaliation for U.S. tariffs announced on Friday.
Trump said if China increases its tariffs again in response to the latest U.S. move, “we will meet that action by pursuing additional tariffs on another $200 billion of goods.”
China warned it will take “qualitative” and “quantitative” measures if the U.S. government publishes an additional list of tariffs on its products.
The trade frictions have unnerved financial markets, with investors and businesses increasingly worried that a full-blown trade battle could derail global growth.
“Trump appears to be employing a similar tactic he used with North Korea, by blustering first in order to gain an advantage in negotiations. The problem is, such a tactic is unlikely to work with China,” said Kota Hirayama, senior emerging markets economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.
“A U.S.-China trade spat alone won’t hurt global growth. But there is always potential for Trump to keep increasing his threats which could have broader implications. Increasing trade has helped growth in emerging markets and this could be negatively affected.”
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan lost more than 1 percent to its lowest level since early February, dragged down by a slide in Chinese shares. The index was last down 0.95 percent.
The Shanghai Composite Index dropped 1.9 percent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 2 percent. “China’s economy has already been clouded by a sharp slowdown in fixed asset investment growth due to the government’s deleveraging drive, a problematic property sector, a mounting debt burden and rising credit defaults,” economists at Nomura wrote.
“The rising risk of a disruptive trade conflict makes a bad situation tentatively worse.” Japan’s Nikkei lost 0.9 percent, South Korea’s KOSPI retreated 0.7 percent while Australian stocks bucked the trend and added 0.35 percent.
S&P 500 futures were off 0.8 percent, pointing to a another down day for Wall Street shares which slipped on Monday. The dollar fell 0.6 percent to 109.895 yen following Trump’s tariff comments. The yen is often sought in times of market turmoil and political tensions.
The euro was 0.1 percent higher at $1.1635. The Australian dollar, often seen as a proxy to China-related trades, shed 0.25 percent to $0.7406 after brushing a one-year low of $0.7394.
In commodities, crude oil markets remained volatile ahead of Friday’s OPEC meeting at a time when Russia and Saudi Arabia are pushing for higher output.
Brent crude futures fell 0.5 percent to $74.98 a barrel after rallying 2.5 percent overnight.
Lower-risk assets gained on the latest round of trade threats. Spot gold was up 0.4 percent at $1,283.11 an ounce. The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield declined to 2.881 percent, its lowest since June 1.