Tuesday, February 19, 2019 | ePaper

Asian markets tumble as new tariffs threat ends calm

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AFP, Hong Kong :
The uneasy calm that had descended on Asian markets was shattered Wednesday after the US threatened to hammer China with tariffs on a further $200 billion of imports, ratcheting up a trade war between the world's top two economies.
Washington's announcement comes just days after the two sides exchanged tit-for-tat measures on a range of goods worth tens of billions of dollars, with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer blaming Beijing.
"As a result of China's retaliation (to Friday's measures) and failure to change its practices, the president has ordered USTR to begin the process of imposing tariffs of 10 percent on an additional $200 billion of Chinese imports," he said in a statement.
China said it was "shocked" and warned it would impose countermeasures "to safeguard the core interests of the country and the fundamental interests of the people".
Tuesday's announcement is the latest move by Donald Trump in his America First protectionist agenda that has also seen the US target Canada, the European Union and Mexico, who have also hit back with their own measures, sparking global trade war fears.
Trump has previously warned he would hit a total of $450 billion in Chinese goods, which essentially accounts for all the country's US-bound exports, citing its unfair practices and intellectual property theft.
While observers have been nervously expecting the next salvo in the trade
row, the news jarred markets, which had enjoyed some stability this week from upbeat US jobs data and hopes for the upcoming earnings season.
"This latest story will serve as a reality check for the market, reminding investors to reconsider how aggressive they want to be," Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading, told Bloomberg News. "Regardless, the $200 billion in potential additional tariffs is not a surprise. The president made everyone well aware of them."
The news sent risk assets into a nosedive. Tokyo's Nikkei ended 1.2 percent lower, with exporters hurt as the safe-haven yen climbed against the dollar.
Hong Kong lost 1.3 percent and Shanghai ended off 1.8 percent, while Seoul shed 0.6 percent and Singapore gave away 0.9 percent. Sydney retreated 0.7 percent, while Taipei and Jakarta were also sharply lower.
Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trade at OANDA, said "nothing is written in stone and the tariffs are not set to take effect until September" but the move was still "a very sobering reality check as to just how fragile sentiment around trade war rhetoric is".
But Ray Attrill, head of forex strategy at National Australia Bank, added
that he saw the move as "a negotiating tactic designed to get China back to
the negotiating table on trade", adding that higher tariffs would "inevitably
impose significant burdens on US consumers".
While the dollar slipped against the yen, the rush for safety saw the
greenback pile ahead against higher-yielding currencies, with the South
Korean won down 0.3 percent, Indonesian rupiah shedding 0.1 percent and Thai
baht 0.2 percent lower.
The Chinese yuan shed 0.4 percent, with many warning that Beijing stands
to suffer most from a full-blown trade war, which comes just as its economy
shows signs of stuttering.
Observers will be keeping a close eye on the release Friday of Chinese
trade data, which will give an idea about how the row has affected the
country's exports so far.
Oil prices also sank on concerns that a trade war could hit demand for the
commodity.
In early European trade London and Frankfurt shed more than one percent
and Paris fell one percent.

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