Stocks drop as Trump and China ramp up trade war; Dow falls 570 points

A U.S. flag hangs on the front of the New York Stock Exchange in 2017.
(Peter Morgan / Associated Press)

Stocks ended the week the way they began it: tumbling as investors worry that tariffs and harsh words between the United States and China will become a trade war that derails the global economy. The latest drop came as the White House proposed tripling the amount of goods from China that will be subject to tariffs.

The stock market changed direction again and again this week as investors tried to get a sense of whether the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies will escalate. On Friday stocks of technology companies, banks and industrial and healthcare companies sank. The market didn’t get any help from a March jobs report that was weaker than expected.

With Trump administration officials sounding conciliatory one day and hostile the next and the president quick to fire off yet another tweet, investors simply don’t know what the U.S. wants to achieve in its talks with China, said Katie Nixon, chief investment officer for Northern Trust Wealth Management.


“The process itself seems to be quite chaotic,” she said. “We’re not quite sure what the long-term strategy is.”

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 572.46 points, or 2.3%, to 23,932.76. Earlier in the day, it had fallen as much as 767 points. The Dow is down 10% from its record high in late January.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index, which many index funds track, slid 58.37 points, or 2.2%, to 2,604.47. The Nasdaq composite sank 161.44 points, or 2.3%, to 6,915.11. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks fell 29.63 points, or 1.9%, to 1,513.30.

The Trump administration spent the last few days reassuring investors that it’s not rushing into a trade war, and China’s government has done the same. But late Thursday, President Trump publicly ordered the U.S. trade representative to consider tariffs on an additional $100 billion in Chinese imports. China said it would “counterattack with great strength” if that happens.

Each nation proposed tariffs on $50 billion in imports from the other at the start of this week. Stocks plunged Monday, but they rallied over the next few days as officials from both countries said that they were open to talks and that the tariffs might never go into effect.

The Dow average, which contains numerous multinational companies including industrial powerhouses Boeing and Caterpillar, swung dramatically this week, with almost 1,300 points separating its lowest point Monday afternoon from its high late Thursday. It ended down 0.7% for the week.


On Friday, construction equipment maker Caterpiller slid 3.5% to $142.99, and aerospace company Boeing tumbled 3.1% to $326.12. Among technology companies, Apple fell 2.6% to $168.378 and PayPal sank 4% to $73.86.

Jason Pride, chief investment officer for Glenmede’s private client business, said Trump’s latest order caught investors off guard.

“It shows a willingness to go to the mat on this and fight it out,” he said. Still, Pride said all of the proposed tariffs add up to a pretty small fraction of trade between the U.S. and China, and overall, they wouldn’t affect the nation’s economy that much if they do go into effect.

Nixon, of Northern Trust, said businesses also support the idea of making changes in America’s trade relationship with China. Even though investors are optimistic about the state of the global economy and company profits continue to grow, Nixon said the administration is creating the thing investors hate most: uncertainty.

The government reported that U.S. employers added 103,000 jobs in March, a weaker pace than in the last few months. The Labor Department also said fewer jobs were added in January and February than it initially estimated. The unemployment rate remained low and the job market looks fundamentally healthy, but it’s possible some employers are struggling to find workers.

Bond prices rose, sending yields down. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 2.77% from 2.83%. Lower yields mean banks can’t make as much money from lending, and bank stocks fell.


Benchmark U.S. crude dropped $1.48, or 2.3%, to $62.06 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, fell $1.22, or 1.8%, to $67.11 a barrel in London. Oil prices fell almost 5% this week as investors wondered if an increase in trade tensions will reduce demand for oil by slowing down the global economy.

Wholesale gasoline fell 3 cents to $1.95 a gallon. Heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.96 a gallon. Natural gas rose 3 cents to $2.70 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Gold rose $7.60 to $1,336.10 an ounce. Silver edged up 1 cent to $16.36 an ounce. Copper fell 2 cents to $3.06 a pound.

The dollar fell to 106.85 yen from 107.12 yen. The euro rose to $1.2285 from $1.2256.

In overseas markets, Germany’s DAX was down 0.5%, France’s CAC-40 fell 0.3%, and the FTSE 100 in Britain lost 0.2%. Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 index retreated 0.4%, and South Korea’s Kospi slipped 0.3%, but Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 1.1% after trading resumed following a holiday as investors caught up with the previous day’s global gains.


2:45 p.m.: This article was updated with closing prices, context and analyst comment.

1:10 p.m.: This article was updated with the close of markets.

11:55 a.m.: This article was updated with more recent market prices.

11:15 a.m.: This article was updated with more recent market prices.

9:35 a.m.: This article was updated with more recent market prices, context and analyst comment.

8:10 a.m.: This article was updated with market prices and context.

This article was originally published at 6:50 a.m.