Asian markets mostly down on China tariff fears
AFP – Most Asian equities sank on Friday as investors fret that the US will ramp up its trade war with China by imposing fresh tariffs, while chip-makers were among the biggest losers following a sharp sell-off in New York.
While emerging market contagion fears continue to stalk trading floors, Donald Trump’s protectionist drive returned to the fore following an indication Japan was next in the firing line, while NAFTA talks with Canada amble along.
Eyes are now on the deadline for a public consultation being carried out on Trump’s plan to hit $200 billion of Chinese goods with levies, adding to the $50 billion already targeted and marking a major step up in a battle between the world’s top two economies.
Beijing has warned it will immediately retaliate against any measures, fuelling fears of an all-out trade war that is already showing signs of causing a drag on the global economy.
The president also appeared to be preparing to set his sights on Japan, with an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal saying his good relationship with Tokyo "will end as soon as I tell them how much they have to pay".
While Trump has mostly taken out his anger with China and Europe, he has often in the past complained of an uneven trade relationship with Japan.
Japan’s Nikkei led losses, ending the morning one percent lower with exporters hurt by a stronger yen as dealers ran to the safe-haven unit for shelter from market turmoil.
Sydney lost 0.7 percent and Singapore dropped 0.4 percent. Seoul and Taipei gave up 0.2 percent and Manila was 0.5 percent off.
However, Hong Kong, which has been battered this week, edged 0.4 percent higher and Shanghai gained 1.1 percent, while Jakarta added 0.3 percent.
– Chip firms fried –
Chip firms joined their Wall Street counterparts in turning south on growing concerns about demand following a lowering of expectations by US giant KLA-Tencor.
Samsung plunged almost three percent in Seoul while SK Hynix was four percent lower. Tokyo Electron and Advantest both dived more than six percent.
The "earnings trend in (the) semiconductor sector is bound to weaken further as end-demand remains lacklustre while orders have been at very elevated levels," Amir Anvarzadeh, senior strategist with Asymmetric Advisors in Singapore, told Bloomberg News. He called talk of a short, sharp fall over-optimistic.
In foreign exchanges, emerging markets currencies enjoyed some respite after recent losses, with the Indonesian rupiah and South African rand inching higher.
Observers have warned of further turmoil as traders fear the crises in Argentina, Turkey and South Africa could spill over into other economies.
The upheaval has revived worries of a repeat from 1997, when a collapse in the Thai baht mushroomed into a much broader Asian economic crisis.
However, Credit Suisse investment strategist Suresh Tantia said the sell-off could provide long-term benefits for dealers.
"Emerging-market equities are handcuffed by trade uncertainty and concerns around contagion risk at this point of time," he said. "We believe they offer tremendous value as the growth outlook for EM remains healthy and valuations have become very attractive."
– Key figures around 0230 GMT –
Tokyo – Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.0 percent at 22,264.11 (break)
Hong Kong – Hang Seng: UP 0.4 percent at 27,087.67
Shanghai – Composite: UP 1.1 percent at 2,722.23
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1619 from $1.1624 at 2100 GMT
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2924 from $1.2929
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 110.55 yen from 110.71 yen
Oil – West Texas Intermediate: UP four cents $67.81 per barrel
Oil – Brent Crude: DOWN two cents at $76.48 per barrel
New York – Dow: UP 0.1 percent at 25,995.87 (close)
London – FTSE 100: DOWN 0.9 percent at 7,318.96 (close)