New York – U.S. stocks dove in another dizzying day of trading after President Donald Trump promised on Thursday to deliver stiff tariffs on imported steel and aluminum, which raised the threat of escalating retaliation by other countries and higher inflation. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index erased nearly all of its gains for the year.
Indexes had been bouncing between modest gains and losses earlier in the day, until Trump told industry executives around midday that they’ll “have protection for the first time in a long while” and that he’s planning to impose tariffs of 25 per cent on steel imports and 10 per cent on aluminum imports next week.
“I don’t know if this will cause a trade war, and obviously that’s the fear,” said Lamar Villere, portfolio manager at investment manager Villere & Co. “But this is exactly what candidate Trump said he would do: He said he would be very protectionist and America First.”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index tumbled 36.16 points, or 1.3 per cent, to 2,677.67. It’s the third straight day where the index has lost at least 1 per cent. It had only four such days last year. The S&P 500 is now up just 0.2 per cent for the year after having its best January in 20 years.
The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 420.22 points, or 1.7 per cent, to 24,608.98, and the Nasdaq composite fell 92.45, or 1.3 per cent, to 7,180.56.
As a candidate, Trump campaigned on an “America First” trade policy, and a big fear for investors has been that increasingly nationalistic governments will impose barriers that hurt the global economy and trade, as well as profits for U.S. exporters. Apple, the most valuable U.S. company, got 63 per cent of its sales from outside the United States in its latest fiscal year.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said the European Union will take retaliatory action if Trump goes ahead with his plan. He vowed that “the EU will react firmly and commensurately to defend our interests.”
Shares of U.S. steelmakers surged on the tariff news. U.S. Steel rose $2.50, or 5.7 per cent, to $46.01. But shares of companies that use lots of steel fell, as did exporters.
Industrial companies in the S&P 500 fell 1.9 per cent for the sharpest loss among the 11 sectors that make up the index. Aerospace giant Boeing lost $12.52, or 3.5 per cent, to $349.69.
Stocks of smaller companies, which tend to do more of their business in the United States and may not feel as much pain from a global trade war, held up better than the rest of the market. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks fell 5.06, or 0.3 per cent, to 1,507.39.
Bond prices rose as demand jumped for safer investments, which pushed yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note sank to 2.81 per cent from 2.86 per cent late Wednesday.
Stocks were higher earlier in the day after Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell testified before Congress and appeared to calm one of the market’s main worries: that the Fed may get more aggressive about raising interest rates to beat down inflation amid the strengthening job market and economy.
Powell told the Senate Finance Committee that he does not see inflation in workers’ wages “at a point of acceleration.” He also said, “I would expect that some continued strengthening in the labour market can take place without causing inflation.”
Earlier in the week, Powell’s testimony helped send Treasury yields jumping and stocks tumbling when he said that he’s feeling more optimistic about the economy. Some traders took that as a signal that the Fed may raise rates more quickly than the market expected.
Worries about potentially higher rates and inflation have reintroduced markets to volatility following their unusually calm run in 2017 and early this year. The concerns at one point helped knock the S&P 500 down 10 per cent from its record high, set in late January.
Patterson Companies fell to the biggest loss in the S&P 500 after it reported weaker earnings for the latest quarter than analysts expected and said that its chief financial officer was leaving. Shares of the company, which sells dental and animal health products, dropped $7.47, or 23.7 per cent, to $24.11.
Oil prices continue to drop following a report on Wednesday that showed more crude supplies in inventories last week than analysts expected. Benchmark U.S. crude fell 65 cents to settle at $60.99 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, lost 90 cents to $63.83 a barrel.
Natural gas rose 3 cents to $2.70 per 1,000 cubic feet, heating oil fell 2 cents to $1.89 per gallon and wholesale gasoline slipped 3 cents to $1.90 per gallon
Gold dropped $12.70 to $1,305.20 an ounce, silver lost 13 cents to $16.28 per ounce and copper lost 1 cent to $3.12 per pound.
The dollar dipped to 106.24from 106.66 yen late Wednesday. The euro rose to $1.2255 from $1.2203, and the British pound slipped to $1.3768 from $1.3771.
France’s CAC 40 fell 1.1 per cent and Germany’s DAX was down 2 per cent. The FTSE 100 in London dropped 0.8 per cent. In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 lost 1.6 per cent and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.6 per cent.