Asian shares decline after escalation in US-China trade tensions as oil extends losses

Most Asian markets fell on Monday as investors digested the escalation in trade tensions between the U.S. and China after both countries announced tariffs last week.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 declined 0.91 percent, with all sectors trading lower. Shippers led losses in the afternoon, with the Topix sea transport subindex sliding 4.15 percent. Steelmakers dropped 2.2 percent and oil stocks tumbled 3.32 percent amid an extended drop in oil prices.

South Korean markets recorded similar losses, with the benchmark Kospi down 1.08 percent and the secondary Kosdaq sinking 2.41 percent. Automakers traded higher, with Hyundai Motor up 0.75 percent, although large cap technology names declined. Heavyweight Samsung Electronics slid 2.73 percent.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 bucked the trend to edge higher, with the index last higher by 0.17 percent. Declines in the materials and energy subindexes were offset by gains in the financials sector, as Australia’s “Big Four” banks all traded higher.

Other markets in the region also came under pressure, with Singapore’s Straits Times Index losing 1.66 percent and Malaysian shares dropped around 0.8 percent. MSCI’s index of shares in Asia Pacific outside of Japan eased 0.49 percent during Asia afternoon trade.

Markets in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Indonesia were closed on Monday for holidays.

Trade dust-up

Trade is likely to be top of mind for investors after the Trump administration last week said it will impose a 25 percent tariff on a list of 818 items of Chinese goods worth around $34 billion beginning July 6. Measures affecting an additional 284 products worth $16 billion will be subject to review before taking effect.

In response, China said a 25 percent tariff will be implemented on U.S. goods, including soybeans and electric vehicles, worth $34 billion starting July 6. Another list of U.S. imports worth $16 billion will be subject to review before being applied.

“Although the initial $34 billion is unlikely to have material impact on both economies, it does pose risks to the global recovery and sentiment,” Tommy Xie, head of greater China research at OCBC Bank, said in a note.

Despite the latest dust-up on the trade front, U.S. stocks finished the last session well off the day’s lows. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 0.34 percent, or 84.83 points, to close at 25,090.48, after losing as much as 280.93 points earlier.

On the energy front, oil prices extended losses after slumping in the last session ahead of OPEC’s meeting in Vienna later this week. The declines also came amid the trade jitters, as energy products had been included in the list of additional U.S. goods that China could target at a later date.

Brent crude futures fell 1.01 percent to trade at $72.70 per barrel after settling more than 3 percent lower on Friday. U.S. crude futures declined 1.88 percent to $63.84.

The dollar firmed slightly against a basket of currencies early on Monday, hovering just below the seven-month high of 95.131 touched on Friday amid concerns over trade.

“The reason why the dollar is behaving this way is because while a trade war is bad news for everyone it is even worse for the countries being singled out as many of them rely heavily on U.S. demand,” Kathy Lien, managing director of FX strategy at BK Asset Management, said in a note.

The dollar index, which tracks the dollar against a basket of currencies, last stood at 94.859. Against the yen, the dollar slipped to trade at 110.45 at 12:15 p.m. HK/SIN.

In individual stocks, Rio Tinto was down 2.21 percent after reiterating that iron ore shipment guidance for 2018 was unchanged at between 330 million and 340 million tons. Other Australian-listed mining majors also saw losses of more than 2 percent.

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