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Dow slides 300 points as US tariffs on Mexico amplify trade fears

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US stocks retreated on Friday after President Donald Trump surprised Wall Street by opening another front in the trade war.The...

Posted: May 31, 2019 7:04 AM
Updated: May 31, 2019 10:45 AM

US stocks retreated on Friday after President Donald Trump surprised Wall Street by opening another front in the trade war.

The Dow declined 300 points, or 1.2%, on Friday morning following Trump's threat to impose tariffs on Mexico. The S&P 500 fell 1.2% and the Nasdaq lost 1.3%

Trump's vow on Thursday evening to impose tariffs on Mexico, one of America's largest trading partners, only amplifies investor worries about how trade tensions will disrupt business and slow global economic growth. Wall Street was already growing concerned about the escalating trade battle with China.

'This is just the latest worry to put on the fire for investors,' Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial, wrote in a note to clients. 'The big question at the end of the day though is can we really fight two trade wars at the same time?'

Auto makers, which rely on Mexico as a vital part of their supply chain, fell sharply. Fiat Chrysler lost 5%, while General Motors declined 4% and Ford lost 3%.

'Alarming' decision

Trump said the United States will impose a 5% tariff on all Mexican imports starting on June 10, as a punishment for illegal immigrants crossing the Mexican border into the United States. The White House indicated the tariff would increase by increments of 5 percentage points each month until it reaches 25% in October.

Some analysts expressed concern that Trump is imposing tariffs in response to immigration problems, not economic or trade ones.

'Tariffs can be thrown around as an economic bomb for anything now,' Peter Boockvar, chief investment officer at Bleakley Advisory Group, wrote in a note to clients. 'Global growth rates will only continue to suffer.'

Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco, called it an 'alarming' decision by the US administration to open up a 'new and unexpected frontier' by using tariffs as a 'weapon' beyond just trade policy.

'Markets don't like surprises and this is a big surprise,' Hooper wrote in a note.

Peso, Mexican stocks plunge

The tariffs on Mexico will be 'highly disruptive,' Goldman Sachs analyst Alec Phillips wrote in a note to investors Friday. The bank warned the new trade tensions could hurt the ability to enact a new North American trade deal to replace NAFTA.

Investors exited Mexican assets in response to the news.

The iShares MSCI Mexico ETF tumbled 4.5%. The Mexican peso plunged 3% against the US dollar. That sharp currency move should help boost Mexican exports by making goods cheaper for overseas buyers.

Many US companies — including Ford and Walmart rely on the country as a central part of their supply chains.

The country is also a regional manufacturing hub for Japanese, South Korean and German automakers that assemble cars in Mexico and ship many of them to the United States. Shares in Mazda and plunged more than 7%, while losses for Toyota, Honda, Nissan and Volkswagen reached 3% or more.

Investors flock to bonds, gold

Signs of worry abounded on Wall Street.

The CNN Business Fear & Greed Index of market sentiment ticked into 'extreme fear' territory on Friday, compared with 'greed' a month ago.

Cash poured into ultra-safe government bonds, driving the 10-year Treasury yield to 2.17%. The benchmark bond rate briefly plunged below 2.15% for the first time since September 2017. Just a month ago the 10-year yield was sitting at 2.5%.

Gold, which tends to rise when investors are scared, gained nearly 1% and flirted with the $1,300 level.

The VIX volatility index climbed 11%, though it remains well below the levels reached in December.

US oil prices declined nearly 3% to $55 a barrel, driven lower by trade tensions and concerns about excess supply.

Global growth concerns

Beyond the trade front, investors were also unnerved by weak economic numbers overseas.

Activity in China's vast factory industry fell to a three-month low in May. New orders declined, likely reflecting pressure from the trade war.

In Germany, retail sales unexpectedly declined. That sent the German 10-year bond yield plunging deeper into negative territory to a record low.

'We don't want to lose the German consumer,' Boockvar wrote. 'The domestic side is what's kept their economy out of recession.'

Longest weekly losing streak since 2011

The broadside against Mexico comes at a delicate time in global financial markets.

The Dow is on track to close lower this week, for the sixth week in a row. That would be the worst losing streak since summer 2011. With one trading session left, the Dow has fallen nearly 5.4% in May. The last time stocks fell in May was in 2012, when the Do w fell 6.2%. This has been the worst month since December, when the Dow fell about 8.7%

US stocks have slumped and bond yields have plunged in part because of worries about the escalating trade war between the United States and China. Investors fear the tit-for-tat tariffs — and threats of non-tariff retaliation — will slow economic growth, dent consumer confidence and derail business investment.

Imposing tariffs on Mexico may only exacerbate those trade concerns. The US Chamber of Commerce has estimated that about 6 million US jobs depend on trade with Mexico.

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