Asian stocks wobble as Sino-U.S. trade war begins

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.1 percent lower, pulling back from a modest early rise. The index has lost near 9 percent since June 7


SHANGHAI/TOKYO: Asian stocks wobbled on Friday, as Washington slapped tariffs on Chinese imports, a move many investors fear could be the start of a full-scale trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

The U.S. tariffs on more than 800 goods from China worth $34 billion took effect at 0401 GMT. President Donald Trump has warned the United States may ultimately target over $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, an amount that roughly matches its total imports from China last year.

China’s commerce ministry said shortly after the U.S. tariffs took effect that it was forced to retaliate, meaning $34 billion worth of imported U.S. goods including autos and agricultural products are also subject to 25 percent tariffs.

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was 0.1 percent lower, pulling back from a modest early rise. The index has lost near 9 percent since June 7.

The Shanghai Composite index ended morning trade down 0.3 percent, before the tariffs took effect, and trading will resume at 0500 GMT. Earlier on Friday, the index fell as much as 1.6 percent to 2,691, getting close to its January 2016 low of 2,638.

Seoul’s Kospi index, down in the morning, was flat fell 0.25 percent and shares in Taiwan were 0.e percent lower. Shares of Singapore, a major trading hub for the region, dropped more than 2.0 percent to 14-month lows.

Japan’s Nikkei stock index rose 1.1 percent from Thursday’s three-month low, helped in part by a boost in automaker shares on signs Washington and the European Union may be seeking a compromise on tariffs on cars.

Japanese carmaker shares rose 1.4 percent, with Toyota Motor up 1.6 percent and Honda Motor up 1.5 percent. South Korea’s Hyundai Motor jumped 2.9 percent.

In Europe, automakers’ shares jumped 3.4 percent on Thursday.

Still, many market players remained cautious given the risk of further escalation in the trade war between China and the United States.

Copper, seen as barometer of the world’s economic strength because of its wide industrial use, extended its losses to $6,236 per ton, down 1.7 percent on the day. It has fallen 15 percent from its peak hit just a month ago.

In the currency market, the yuan eased slightly in a choppy trade, though it kept some distance from its 11-momth lows touched earlier this week.

The renminbi traded at 6.6534 per dollar, down 0.25 percent on the day, compared to Tuesday’s low of 6.7204.

Newly released minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting on June 12-13 showed policymakers discussed whether recession lurked around the corner and expressed concerns global trade tensions could hit an economy that by most measures looked strong.

The yield on benchmark 10-year Treasury notes was at 2.8364 percent, compared with a U.S. close of 2.840 percent.

The two-year yield, which rises with traders’ expectations of higher Fed fund rates, was at 2.553 percent compared with a U.S. close of 2.561 percent.

The dollar was little changed against the yen at 110.67.

The single currency was down a hair on the day at $1.1685, while the dollar index, which tracks the greenback against a basket of six major rivals, was flat at 94.474.

After ticking slightly higher, oil prices fell after U.S. government data showed an unexpected jump in crude oil stockpiles.

However, the market remains nervous on concerns over tariffs amid an increasingly tight oil market.

Tensions between the U.S. and Iran continued to rise as the U.S. Navy said it stood ready to ensure free navigation and the flow of commerce, after Iran’s Revolutionary Guards threatened to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.

U.S. crude fell 0.1 percent at $72.85 a barrel. Brent crude was 0.25 percent lower at $77.20 per barrel.