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Stocks close lower amid international trade tensions

CNBC logo CNBC 3/13/2018 Fred Imbert
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Stocks fell in choppy trade Tuesday after tech shares pulled back amid concerns trade tensions between the U.S. and China could increase.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed 171 points lower. The 30-stock index climbed 197 points at its session high. Microsoft was among the worst-performing stocks on the Dow, falling 2.4 percent.

The S&P 500 declined 0.64 percent, with tech falling 1.2 percent. Earlier in the session, tech rose as much as 0.9 percent.

The tech-heavy Nasdaq dropped 1 percent and snapped a seven-day winning streak. Both S&P 500 and Nasdaq rose as much as 0.7 percent before turning lower.

Qualcomm was the worst-performing stock in the S&P 50 tech sector, falling 5 percent. The stock fell after President Donald Trump shut down Broadcom's proposed buyout of Qualcomm, citing concerns based on national security. Both companies have been ordered to abandon this deal immediately.

Stocks initially rose on the back of data that showed U.S. inflation remained tame.

The U.S. consumer price index rose 0.2 percent in February, in line with expectations. Inflation concerns permeated through the market last month as investors worried that higher inflation would lead the Federal Reserve to tighten monetary policy at a faster rate.

"Traders exhaled a sigh of relief, for combined with last week's tepid wage growth data, nothing suggests that inflation has gotten to a point that forces the Fed to quicken its step down the path to normalization," said Jeremy Klein, chief market strategist at FBN Securities.

"Nevertheless, the central bank will likely upgrade its near term outlook for the economy from 'roughly balanced.'"

Stock gains were briefly held in check by news that President Donald Trump ousted Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

The Washington Post first reported that Tillerson was out before Trump confirmed it in a tweet. Trump also said CIA Director Mike Pompeo would take over as secretary of state.

"It's complete turnover at the White House and right on the precipice of these talks with North Korea," said Jack Ablin, founding partner of Cresset Wealth. "Replacing him with the CIA director Pompeo, at face value I don't think it means a ton to investors; it just underscores this turbulence going on inside the White House."

"I think it's a near term negative, but something investors will get over pretty quickly," Ablin said.

Stocks were coming off a mixed session in which the Nasdaq closed at a record while the Dow and S&P 500 fell amid trade-war worries.

Last week, Trump signed two declarations which would implement tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. The tariffs are expected to take effect in the coming weeks and will see a 25 percent charge placed on steel, and 10 percent levy on aluminum — Canada and Mexico however are exempt. Investors remain on edge over concerns that countries around the world may strike back because of the tariffs.

In corporate news, Trump shut down Broadcom's proposed buyout of Qualcomm, citing concerns based on national security. Both companies have been ordered to abandon this deal immediately. Shares of Qualcomm dropped 4 percent.

CNBC's Chloe Aiello contributed to this report.

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