Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

London — World shares limped towards their worst week in almost six months on Friday, with Asia carving out a 14-month trough as investors braced for a new salvo of China-US tariffs.

A slump in US chip stocks and reports that President Donald Trump had also weighed a trade scrap with Japan dragged on tech-heavy Asia overnight, while Europe’s main bourses faded after an initial attempt push higher.

A flat pan-European Stoxx 600 was set to end the week with a 2.3% loss, its worst weekly performance since the end of March. Emerging-market stocks have lost even more, some 3%. Nerves were set to be frayed further after the public comment period for proposed tariffs on an additional $200bn worth of Chinese imports passed at 4am GMT. The tariffs could now go into effect at any moment, although there was no clear timetable.

China has warned of retaliation if Washington launches any new measures. Australia’s dollar, often used in as play on China’s fortunes due to its huge metals exports there, hit a two-and-a-half-year low early.

“It is all linked to the trade comment period expiring and now we are wondering what the implementation plan is going to be and how China is going to respond,” Saxo Bank’s head of forex strategy, John Hardy, said.

“The Aussie dollar of course is a proxy within G10 for that,” he said, also pointing to shares in mining giants such as BHP trading down near key technical levels.

There were some crumbs of comfort, however, for traders.

Battered emerging-market shares were on course to snap a seven-day losing streak. China had closed higher overnight despite the tariff feud and the rand, Turkey’s lira and Argentina’s peso all looked relatively calm early on.

Chinese blue chips had managed their 0.5% bounce as beaten-down healthcare stocks found buyers after taking a savaging in recent months amid vaccine scandals.

It is all linked to the trade comment period expiring and now we are wondering what the implementation plan is going to be and how China is going to respond
John Hardy, head of forex strategy at Saxo Bank

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan had still lost 0.3% though, having earlier reached its lowest since mid-July 2017.

The Nikkei shed 0.8%, undermined by a rising yen and reports US President Donald Trump could be contemplating taking on Japan over trade.

On the jobs

Other emerging markets were trying to steady after a punishing week, with Indonesia and the Philippines still badly scarred by the fear of capital flight following crises in Argentina and Turkey and the rumbling US-China trade strains.

“It seems unlikely the tariffs will not implemented as the US administration believes that they are winning the trade war and will be in a stronger position to negotiate if they put more pressure on China,” JPMorgan analysts wrote in a note.

“The tech sector was also very weak overnight, with a slide in Micron of almost 10% and further weakness in the Chinese Internet ADRs.”

Eyes were also turning to the US payrolls report for August which is expected to show a robust rise of 191,000, in part as July was temporarily depressed by the closure of the Toys R Us chain that month.

Still, analysts at NatWest Markets cautioned that: “Despite employment indicators pointing to another strong report, it is worth noting that there is a tendency for August payrolls to initially disappoint and then be revised up noticeably later.”

Just as important will be figures on US wages where a rise above the 0.2% forecasted is likely to boost the dollar and pressure treasury prices.

The dollar could do with the lift, having lost out to the safe-haven yen and Swiss franc. It was changing hands at ¥110.70 after falling 0.7% on Thursday, the sharpest one-day loss in seven weeks.

Part of the decline came after a Wall Street Journal columnist reported that Trump had mused about starting a trade fight with Japan.

The dollar also hit a four-month low on the franc around $0.9645. Against a basket of currencies, the dollar index nudged lower to 94.939 and was heading for a fourth weekly drop.

The euro was a shade higher at $1.1645, while sterling idled at $1.2939 amid ongoing uncertainty over Brexit negotiations.

In commodity markets, the dip in the dollar left gold a sliver higher at $1,200.67/oz.

Crude oil was slightly up too after falling more than 1% on Thursday when US data showed petrol inventories rose unexpectedly last week.

Brent was 20 cents higher at $76.69 a barrel, while US crude edged up 23c to $67.99.