Wall Street falls on escalation of US-China tensions

Wall Street opened lower on Friday after the US capped off a tense week by escalating its dispute with China.

The S&P 500 fell 0.8 per cent, following a decision by the US Department of Commerce to tighten export controls targeting Huawei and its US suppliers in the semiconductor industry.

Chipmakers were hit particularly hard. The Philadelphia Semiconductor index, which tracks 30 companies that design, distribute and sell chips, fell more than 3 per cent, with Qualcomm sinking 5 per cent.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slumped 0.9 per cent while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.7 per cent.

Tensions between the two global powers have heightened this week, as President Donald Trump seeks to pin the blame on China for the explosion of coronavirus cases in the US and elsewhere in the world.

In Europe, the FTSE 100 rose 0.9 per cent, while the continent-wide Stoxx 600 gained 0.5 per cent, shedding some of its earlier gains as investors were shaken by the prospect of a revival of the trade war between the world’s largest economies.

Frankfurt’s Xetra Dax was up 0.8 per cent following figures showing German growth fell slightly less than economists had expected. The eurozone’s biggest economy shrank 2.2 per cent in the first quarter, its fastest contraction since the 2008 financial crisis.

The gains came after a choppy week of trading in which optimism about the easing of lockdowns across the US and Europe has been tempered by new clusters of virus outbreaks in countries such as South Korea and China and central bank warnings of a protracted economic recovery.

“Investors are seeing a dichotomy between the bullish views being expressed in many markets and the ongoing output of bad economic data,” said James Ashley, head of international market strategy at Goldman Sachs Asset Management.

Elsewhere in Europe, sterling fell, weakening 0.6 per cent against the dollar, after the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator said “very little progress” had been made in the latest round of negotiations, with a key deadline only weeks away.

The price of gold hit $1,741 a troy ounce, its highest level since April, as deepening US-China tensions nudged investors towards haven assets.

Shares across Asia-Pacific inched higher following fresh signs that China’s economy could be recovering from the coronavirus crisis.

Japan’s Topix index closed 0.5 per cent up while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dropped 0.1 per cent.

On Friday, official data from China showed growth in industrial output resumed last month, while retail sales and investment in capital goods such as machinery shrank at a slower pace than previously. The upbeat data lifted mining companies listed in Europe such as Anglo American and BHP.

“If the recovery momentum continues, China could avoid another GDP contraction” in the second quarter, said Betty Wang, senior China economist at ANZ.

Oil prices rose following signs that demand was recovering. Brent crude, the international benchmark, was up 2.3 per cent at $31.85 per barrel, while West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, gained 4 per cent to $28.67 a barrel.

“The fundamentals in the market are clearly improving,” said Warren Patterson, head of commodities strategy at ING. “But we still believe that in the near term, the upside is limited given that we are still in a surplus environment and as there is plenty of inventory.”

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