US. stocks sink again, giving Wall Street its worst week in two years
BEIJING — China on Friday announced it would impose retaliatory import tariffs on 128 U.S. products — goods that amount to $3 billion — targeting staples that include California wines, fruits and almonds.
The move follows President Donald Trump’s decision this week to slap tariffs on about $50 billion worth in Chinese goods, triggering a potentially damaging trade confrontation with Beijing.
Officials said the proposed actions were in response to the White House’s previous tariffs on steel and aluminum, which took effect Friday. But the timing, hours after Trump made his White House announcement impose tariffs specifically aimed at China, sent an unmistakable message.
Meanwhile, U.S. stocks sank again, giving Wall Street its worst week in two years, as fear gripped investors that China and the U.S. were headed for a trade war.
The Dow Jones industrial average plunged more than 400 points, bringing its weekly decline to 1,400.
Technology companies and banks sustained some of the biggest losses. Applied Materials lost 5.9 percent and Bank of America fell 4.5 percent.
Traders are worried that an escalating trade spat between Washington and Beijing will hurt U.S. businesses, especially those that do a lot of sales overseas.
The Dow lost 424 points, or 1.8 percent, to 23,533.
The S&P 500 fell 55 points, or 2.1 percent, to 2,588. The Nasdaq fell 174 points, or 2.4 percent, to 6,992.
Prices for Treasury bonds and gold rose.
The lopsided responses — China’s ministry of commerce posted a relatively staid comment on its website — signal vastly different strategies between the world’s two largest economies in an escalating dispute that has raised fears of a trade war. Trump wants quick action and big results. China is aiming for restrained, targeted movements — an attempt to ward off a full-on conflict, but also show it won’t cede too much ground.
“China is playing this very smartly, doing just enough retaliation to prove it’s serious,” said Arthur Kroeber, managing director of Gavekal Dragonomics, a Beijing research firm. “It’s doing what it can to position itself as the global good guy, with a fair amount of success.”
The Chinese tariffs would first hit U.S. products such as avocados and nuts, with 15 percent tariffs. Beijing, if officials deemed it worthwhile, could also place 25 percent tariffs on American-made goods such as pork and aluminum. Friday’s statement did not indicate a specific date the tariffs would go into effect, but noted businesses had until March 31 to offer opinions. It said officials would “take legal action within the framework of the World Trade Organization.”
This announcement did not mention Trump’s latest tariffs, which follow an investigation into China’s intellectual property practices and its harm to American businesses. Officials, as expected, found that China forced U.S. companies to hand over their trade secrets or make unfair concessions for access to its vast market.
But in a separate statement, Chinese officials called Trump’s intellectual property investigation “typical unilateralism and trade protectionism.” China doesn’t want a trade war, it said, “but is absolutely not afraid of a trade war.”
Analysts struggled to immediately understand why items such as wine, a product from the Democratic stronghold of California, would make the list but not top U.S. imports such as sorghum and soybeans. Chinese officials last month launched a probe into American sorghum imports, and both agricultural products come from regions more supportive of Trump.
“We are technically in rhetorical territory here,” said Andrew Polk, co-founder of Trivium China, a Beijing-based research firm. “There is a small window to effect policy … they’re going to make a little noise, but then they’re going to let U.S. industry and the stock market do the talking for them.”
The White House will publish the list of targeted goods within the next 15 days, and authorities may be waiting until they see the breakdown or face even heftier actions. China’s top economic officials, a number of whom were educated in the U.S., are known for their savvy of the American system and its electoral cycles.
“For Trump, it is easier to blame other countries for the U.S.’ problems and garner votes in the mid-term election, instead of taking the pain to restructure the country’s economy,” China Daily, a state-run English newspaper, said Friday in an editorial. “He cannot force China to give in, however, because China knows the U.S.’ demands are insatiable.”
China is one of the world’s most protectionist countries, and American businesses have long complained about requirements to create joint ventures or sacrifice proprietary information. The Treasury Department, alongside the tariffs, will restrict Chinese investment in American tech firms.
Trump’s tariffs reflect beliefs that years of negotiations have failed, and China now threatens its security and success in areas like artificial intelligence. China, under President Xi Jinping, has sought to strengthen its advanced industries and global standing. Officials view the U.S. domination of leading technologies as a challenge to its own interests.
The U.S. is essentially demanding that China “provide as much market access to the U.S. as the U.S. provides to China,” said Scott Kennedy, an expert on China’s economic policy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “That’s a really big list for China. Xi Jinping is a nationalist … and he’s not interested in giving the U.S. or anyone else a level playing field.”
Trump likes to prove his point by highlighting a growing trade deficit with China, which reached a record $375 billion last year, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. While the latest tariffs could hit certain sectors, its macro impact on China’s GDP is still minimal, said Wang Tao, head of Asia economics at financial UBS investment bank in Hong Kong.
Trump’s steel tariffs would affect China even less, as the nation makes up only 2.5 percent of U.S. steel imports due to existing regulations.
But the latest moves hinted at the start of what could become a tit-for-tat battle that cracks global supply chains and increases costs for consumers. Trump’s announcement came the same day he replaced national security adviser H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, a former United Nations ambassador who advocates a more aggressive response to China.
The Los Angeles Times and The Associated Press contributed to this report.