U.S. stocks nosedived in early trading on Wall Street Monday as China’s currency fell sharply and stoked fears that the trade war between the world’s two largest economies would continue escalating.
China let its currency, the yuan, sink to an 11-year low against the dollar and under the politically sensitive level of seven per dollar. A weaker Chinese currency can help boost that country’s exports while hurting foreign competition.
The U.S. has long complained about China’s currency and the move could be construed as a way for China to turn the yuan into a weapon in the midst of a trade war.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 index tumbled 2.4% as of 11:47 a.m. ET and the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid 602 points, or 2.3%, to 25,883.
The Nasdaq composite fell 2.9%.
European and Asian markets were also sharply lower.
“Markets will brace for trade tensions to boil,” said Vishnua Varathan of Mizuho Bank in a report.
The People’s Bank of China blamed the yuan’s decline on “trade protectionism,” a reference to President Trump’s tariff hikes in a fight over Beijing’s trade surplus and technology policies.
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Beijing appears to have decided “the currency is now also considered part of the arsenal to be drawn upon,” said Robert Carnell, analyst at bank ING.
Wall Street is coming off of its worst week of the year after Trump on Thursday threatened more tariffs on Chinese goods just as both nations are trying to negotiate an end to the damaging trade war.
Technology stocks took the worst hit in the early going as many of those companies stand to suffer more than other sectors if the trade war between the U.S. and China continues to escalate. Apple fell 4.3% and Microsoft fell 2.9%.
Investors fled to less risky holdings. Bond prices spiked and pushed yields on the benchmark 10-year Treasury down to 1.77% from 1.85% late Friday. The yield on the 2-year note dropped to 1.61%, down from 1.71%. Both were large moves.
Lower bond yields hurt banks because they push interest rates on loans lower. Financial stocks had some of the steepest declines.
Every sector in the S&P 500 fell, though utilities only had modest losses. The sector is considered a safer investment in times of economic uncertainty and a slowdown in growth.
Companies are in the final stretch of the latest round of quarterly earnings reports and the results haven’t been as bad as initially feared.
Profit for companies in the S&P 500 is now expected to contract by roughly 1%. That’s significantly better than the more than 3% contraction initially expected before results started to be released. More than three-quarters of the S&P 500 have reported financial results.
Meat producer Tyson Foods rose 5.6% after beating profit forecasts for the quarter.
There are still several big-name companies that have yet to report financial results. Disney will report on Tuesday, while CVS and Lyft are set to report on Wednesday. Uber will release results on Thursday.
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