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Dow closes down more than 550 points on trade war fears

CNBC logo CNBC 4/6/2018 Fred Imbert and Alexandra Gibbs

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Stocks fell sharply Friday as worries of a trade war between the U.S. and China grew. Wall Street also assessed employment data that missed analyst expectations.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 572 points to 23,932, closing back in correction territory. Boeing and Caterpillar were the biggest decliners in the 30-stock index. The S&P 500 declined 2.2 percent to 2,604, with industrials as the worst-performing sector. The Nasdaq dropped 2.3 percent to close at 6,915.

Equities hit their session lows in the final two hours of trading, with the Dow falling as much as 767 points, after Fed Chief Jerome Powell indicated the central bank would continue hiking rates this year. Some traders were hoping the Fed Chief would acknowledge the recent market volatility caused by the trade dispute.

For the week, the major averages closed lower as volatile trading persisted. The Dow and S&P 500 declined 0.7 percent and 1.4 percent this week, respectively. The Nasdaq dropped 2.1 percent.

"This is truly a reaction to China," said JJ Kinahan, a chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. "What we've seen with this administration is a trend of a big statement, followed by everyone getting riled up, and then a pragmatic solution is found. Cooler heads may prevail moving forward."

After China announced new tariffs on 106 U.S. products Wednesday, President Donald Trump threatened more levies on Thursday, stating that he has asked the United States Trade Representative to consider $100 billion in additional tariffs against China.

U.S. stock futures plunged on the news, while global stock markets fell. China's Commerce Ministry said Friday the country will not hesitate to react with a "major response to the new tariffs from the U.S.

Trump later tweeted on Friday: "China, which is a great economic power, is considered a Developing Nation within the World Trade Organization. They therefore get tremendous perks and advantages, especially over the U.S. Does anybody think this is fair. We were badly represented. The WTO is unfair to U.S."

Boeing and Caterpillar, two companies that could be adversely affected by a trade war with China, both fell more than 3.5 percent.

Shares of large-cap tech companies also fell. Apple and Amazon both declined more than 2 percent, while Netflix dropped 1.3 percent after briefly trading higher.

Stocks briefly came off their lows in midday trading after an official from Mexico's economic ministry said the person was "very convinced" a new deal on NAFTA will be reached soon.

The move lower in stocks also follows the release of much weaker-than-expected jobs data. The Labor Department reported the U.S. economy added 103,000 jobs in March. Economists polled by Reuters expected a gain of 193,000.

"I'd call this one a mixed bag. The headline number may disappoint but there's more than meets the eye," said Mike Loewengart, vice president of investment strategy at E-Trade, noting that wages improved and unemployment remains at historically low levels.

"For investors, today's report may be a tough one to swallow when coupled with a trade standoff that seems to be intensifying with each passing day," Loewengart said.

Investors pored over the data to looking for any indications as to how the U.S. is performing and what this means for the Federal Reserve when it comes to the future path of raising interest rates.

Scott Clemons, chief investment strategist at Brown Brothers Harriman, said the Fed is still on track to raise rates a total of three times this year. However, an increase in trade tensions complicates matters for the central bank.

"The Fed does not want to be in the business of disruption," he said. "On the other hand, tariffs can be inflationary. That puts the Fed between a rock and a hard place."

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