Asian shares wobbled Monday after U.S. and Chinese officials traded jibes in their widening clash over trade and technology.
China’s Shanghai Composite lost 0.5% to 2,884.54 after surveys showed a deteriorating manufacturing outlook in May. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index lost 1.3% by midday to 20,343.52, and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.4% at 26,807.91. The S&P ASX 200 dropped 0.9% to 6,340.90.
South Korea’s Kospi rose 1% to 2,062.07 after reports said Samsung Electronics’ Chairman Lee Jae-yong invited the giant’s top executives to discuss concentrating the company’s strategy on its core businesses as it weathers slowing demand for computer chips and smartphones and the repercussions of the trade conflict between Beijing and Washington.
India’s Sensex rose 0.5% to 39,912.03, while shares fell in Taiwan and Singapore. Markets in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand were closed.
A private survey, the Caixin manufacturing purchasing managers’ index, or PMI, held steady at 50.2 in May. But business confidence slipped to the lowest level since the series began in April 2012. The official manufacturing PMI, issued Friday, sank to one of the lowest levels in three years.
China issued a report Sunday that blamed the conflict on the Trump administration, but stopped short of announcing details of a plan for retaliation against a U.S. blacklisting of Huawei Technologies. On Friday, it said it would soon announce its own list of “unreliable entities” consisting of foreign businesses, corporations and individuals.
Wang Shouwen, China’s vice commerce minister and deputy international trade representative, said China would issue more specific information on the list soon, but that it was aimed at enterprises that “violated market principles” and cut supplies of components to Chinese businesses for non-commercial reasons.
Meanwhile in Singapore, China’s defense minister warned its military would “resolutely take action” to defend Beijing’s claims over self-ruled Taiwan and disputed areas of the South China Sea.
In his comments to defense chiefs, officials and academics at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Gen. Wei Fenghe did not direct that thread at the U.S., and U.S. Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan was not in the audience.
But Wei did have tough words on the trade war with Washington.
“As for the recent trade frictions started by the U.S., if the U.S. wants to talk, we will keep the door open. If they want to fight, we will fight till the end,” Wei said. “As what the general public of China says these days, a talk, welcome. A fight, we’re ready. Bully us, no way.”
A report issued by the Cabinet spokesman’s office on Sunday said China won’t back down on “major issues of principle,” but offered no sense of whether or how the world’s second largest economy might retaliate against U.S. tariffs on goods manufactured in China.
“Let’s understand that trade conflicts are the catalyst for the real issue; slower global growth leading to stagflation and recessionary conditions,” Chris Weston of Pepperstone said in a commentary. “With the weekend news flow centering again on trade, where a Chinese white paper attributed the blame on relations to Trump, amid Chinese authorities investigating FedEx, it all suggests things will only get worse before they get better.”
In the U.S., the stock market stumbled Friday to its first losing month of 2019 in May, primarily due to President Donald Trump’s decision to broadly wield his tariff powers, first against China over trade and then against Mexico over immigration.
Friday’s losses came after Trump shocked investors by announcing plans via Twitter to impose tariffs on Mexico in a bid to compel the nation’s third-biggest trading partner to crack down on migrants attempting to enter the U.S.
The move spurred a broad sell-off that sliced more than 350 points from the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which closed down 1.4% at 24,815.04. The selling left the benchmark S&P 500 index 6.6% lower for the month as it lost 1.3% to 2,752.06.
It’s the first time the S&P 500 has dropped for four straight weeks since autumn 2014.
The Nasdaq slid 1.5% to 7,453.15. The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies gave up 1.4% to 1,465.49.
The new tariffs on Mexican goods shocked investors who were already nervous about a global trade war crimping economic growth. It’s especially hard on automakers that import vehicles from Mexico.
Investors have been fleeing to safer holdings all month. The shift to utilities and bonds quickened earlier in May after the U.S. and China broke off negotiations. The U.S. then pushed more tariffs on Chinese goods along with a ban on technology sales. That prompted retaliatory tariffs from China and threats over supply flows of rare earths and other key resources.
The flight to safe havens has pushed the Japanese yen strongly higher against the U.S. dollar. On Monday the dollar was trading at 108.11 yen, down from 108.28 yen late Friday. Last week, the dollar had been trading at about 110 yen.
The euro rose to $1.1181 from $1.1170 late Friday.
Increasing uncertainty over the economic outlook has drawn energy futures sharply lower.
Benchmark U.S. crude oil gave up 59 cents to $52.91 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It tumbled 5.5% to settle at $53.50 a barrel on Friday. Brent crude, the international standard, skidded 88 cents to $61.11 per barrel. It closed 3.6% lower on Friday.