International markets roundup

NEW YORK: US stocks fell on Wednesday after President Donald Trump sought to impose fresh tariffs on China, intensifying fears of a trade war that could raise costs and hurt overseas sales for US companies.

The Trump administration is pressing China to cut its trade surplus with the United States by $100 billion, the White House said Wednesday.

Trump is looking to levy tariffs on up to $US60 billion ($A76.1 billion) of Chinese imports, targeting the technology, telecom and apparel sectors, sources told Reuters on Tuesday.

"There's trade war talk going on," said Michael O'Rourke, chief market strategist at JonesTrading in Greenwich, Connecticut. "We saw people taking profit amidst the uncertainty."

Trump has already imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports as well as solar panels and washing machines, sparking threats of retaliation from some trade partners.

Boeing Co, which investors say may be particularly vulnerable to retaliation, tumbled 2.5 per cent, leading the losers on the Dow.

Stocks briefly pared losses after economic analyst and commentator Larry Kudlow, who has supported free trade measures in the past, said on Wednesday he had accepted an offer to replace Gary Cohn as the White House's top economic adviser.

In an interview with CNBC just before the market close, Kudlow said he believed tougher trade measures against China were warranted.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 248.91 points, or 1.0 per cent, to 24,758.12, the S&P 500 lost 15.83 points, or 0.57 per cent, to 2,749.48 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 14.20 points, or 0.19 per cent, to 7,496.81.

Also weighing on investor sentiment was data that showed US retail sales fell for a third straight month in February, pointing to a slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter.

LONDON: British shares gave up early gains and finished in negative territory on Wednesday as points gained by Prudential and mining stocks were overturned by simmering fears of a global trade war.

The blue chip FTSE 100 index closed down 0.09 per cent at 7,132.69 points, slightly above the pan-European STOXX 600, down 0.15 per cent, the French stock market was down 0.18 per cent, but the Dax in Germany was up 0.14 per cent.

"The positive mood in Europe has waned after US markets turned lower," David Madden from CMC Markets said.

The showdown between Britain and the Kremlin about how a Soviet-era nerve toxin was used to attack a Russian ex-spy had little impact on British shares.

Insurer Prudential was the top gainer, its shares rising 5.1 per cent after it said it would demerge its UK and Europe retirement and asset management business from its international insurance business.

TOKYO: Asian shares faltered as investors fretted over the threat of new US tariffs on Chinese imports.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan stumbled 0.7 per cent, retreating from a one-and-a-half month high on Tuesday, with the technology sector the biggest drag.

Japan's Nikkei dropped 0.87 per cent. China's SSE Composite index and the blue-chip CSI 300 fell 0.5 per cent each.

Large Asian technology stocks such as LG Display , Tencent Holdings and Taiwan Semiconductor were all down by more than one per cent.

"A full-on global trade war is unlikely but there may not be much peace on the trade front either," said Sydney-based AMP Chief Economist Shane Oliver. "A US-China trade war is the main risk."

Investors suspect policymakers who favour protectionism will also seek to use the currency as a trade weapon, if not overtly then through benign neglect.

WELLINGTON: The S&P/NZX 50 index on Wednesday fell 0.48 per cent, to 8,432.63.

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