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Dow drops 623 points as U.S.-China trade war rattles investors

Specialist Peter Giacchi works on the floor of

Specialist Peter Giacchi works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. Stocks tumbled on Wall Street after President Donald Trump said he "hereby ordered" U.S. companies to consider alternatives to doing business in China. (AP Photo/Richard Drew) Credit: AP/Richard Drew

The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 600 points Friday after the latest escalation in the trade war between the United States and China rattled investors. The broad sell-off sent the S&P 500 to its fourth straight weekly loss.

Stocks tumbled after President Donald Trump demanded that U.S. companies with operations in China consider moving them to other countries — including the United States — just hours after Beijing announced new tariffs on $75 billion in U.S. goods.

Trump also announced after the market closed that the United States would increase existing tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese goods to 30 percent from 25 percent, and that tariffs on additional goods expected to kick in on Sept. 1 would be at 15 percent instead of 10 percent. Those announcements are likely to influence stock markets in Asia when trading opens there Monday. 

"The market is spooked by the escalation in the trade war," said Janet Johnston, portfolio manager at TrimTabs Asset Management. "Investors are looking for an endgame, and we haven't seen it yet."

The S&P 500 fell 75.84 points, or 2.6 percent, to 2,847.11. The index is now down 4.5 percent for the month, though it's still up 13.6 percent for the year. The Dow lost 623.34 points, or 2.4 percent, to close at 25,628.90. The average briefly dropped 745 points. The Dow has had five declines of 2 percent or more this year, with three of them coming this month. The Nasdaq gave up 239.62 points, or 3 percent, to finish at 7,751.77. The Russell 2000 index of smaller company stocks skidded 46.52 points, or 3.1 percent, to 1,459.49. 

Trump also said Friday morning that he was "ordering" UPS, Federal Express and Amazon to block any deliveries from China of the powerful opioid drug fentanyl. The stocks of all three companies fell as traders tried to assess the possible implications.

Matt Arnold, an analyst who covers FedEx and UPS for Edward Jones, said it could be difficult for the companies to comply should the administration draft detailed guidelines for rooting out fentanyl.

"There are just too many instances in which the package contents can't be known or verified," he said. "It's difficult to picture a scenario where UPS and FedEx are all that well-equipped to detect something like this."

The market opened lower Friday with the news of the new China tariffs. It recovered a bit after a widely anticipated speech by Jerome Powell where the chairman of the Federal Reserve indicated the central bank was prepared to cut interest rates but gave no clear signal on when and by how much.

Speaking at a Fed policy conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Powell noted that there's growing evidence of a global economic slowdown and suggested that uncertainty over Trump's trade wars have complicated the central bank's ability to set interest rate policy. Powell said the Fed "will act as appropriate to sustain the expansion."

Some economists saw Powell's speech as setting the stage for further interest rate cuts this year. A quarter-point rate cut reduction in September is considered all but certain. Some think the Fed will cut rates again in December.

Technology companies, which have much to lose in the trade battle, bore the brunt of the sell-off. Apple slid 4.6 percent and Microsoft gave up 3.2 percent. Chipmaker Nvidia dropped 5.3 percent.

Companies that rely on consumer spending also took losses. Retailer L Brands plunged 9.3 percent.

Energy stocks headed lower along with crude oil prices. The price of benchmark crude sank $1.18, or 2.1 percent, to settle at $54.17 a barrel as traders worried that the latest escalation in the trade battle could sap global demand for energy.

U.S. bond prices rose sharply as investors sought safety, sending yields lower. The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell to 1.53 percent from 1.61 percent, a large move. Banks fell because lower yields can translate to a decline in the interest rate that lenders charge for mortgages and other consumer loans. JPMorgan Chase lost 2.5 percent and Citigroup dropped 3.1 percent.

The price of gold, another safe haven for investors during times of market turbulence and economic weakness, rose $29.30 to $1,526.60 per ounce.

The dollar fell to 105.31 Japanese yen from 106.41 yen on Thursday. The euro strengthened to $1.1145 from $1.1085.

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