Wall Street nosedives as investors flee on trade war fears

A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, US on March 23, 2018.
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York, US on March 23, 2018.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - Wall Street tumbled on Friday (March 23) with more than 1,000 points knocked off the Dow in two days as investors, increasingly nervous about a potential US trade war with China, shied away from risk ahead of the weekend and sought shelter from further losses.

In a volatile session, the S&P 500 came within a hair of its 200-day moving average, a key technical level. The benchmark index also nudged closer to its February low, which marked a correction, ending 9.9 percent lower than its Jan 26 record.

"There is concern what the trade war could look like. Investors want to manage their risk. If it escalates rapidly, it could be a major headwind for the market," said Peter Kenny, senior market strategist at Global Markets Advisory Group, in New York.

President Donald Trump's plans for tariffs on up to US$60 billion (S$79 billion) in Chinese goods moved the world's two largest economies closer to a trade war as China declared plans to levy duties on up to US$3 billion of US imports including fruit and wine even as it urged the United States to "pull back from the brink."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 424.69 points, or 1.77 per cent, to 23,533.2, the S&P 500 lost 55.43 points, or 2.10 per cent, to 2,588.26 after hitting an intraday low that was barely above its 200-day moving average of 2585.22.

The Nasdaq Composite dropped 174.01 points, or 2.43 per cent, to 6,992.67.

For the week, the Dow was down 5.67 per cent, the S&P 500 was down 5.95 per cent and the Nasdaq was down 6.54 per cent, marking their biggest weekly percentage falls since January 2016.

The Dow was down 11.6 per cent since its Jan 26 high, and hit its lowest close since confirming a correction in February.

The Cboe Volatility Index, the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term volatility in the S&P 500, finished up 1.53 points at 24.87, its highest close since Feb. 13.

The S&P's financial sector was the S&P's biggest percentage loser, at 3 percent, after a volatile session in which it was whip-sawed by volatile Treasury yields.

Bloomberg News cited China's ambassador to the United States saying that the country is "looking at all options" in response to tariffs, which could include scaling back purchases of U.S. Treasuries.

Nasdaq was weighed down by declines in momentum stocks such as Facebook, Amazon.com, Microsoft and Google's parent Alphabet.

The semiconductor sector took a fall after Micron Technology's quarterly report stoked fears about falling NAND prices. The Philadelphia Semiconductor index slumped 3.3 percent.

Declining issues outnumbered advancing ones on the NYSE by a 3.96-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 3.72-to-1 ratio favored decliners.

The S&P 500 posted two new 52-week highs and 42 new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 23 new highs and 93 new lows.

Volume on US exchanges was 8.11 billion shares, above the 7.3 billion average for the last 20 trading days.