Market Snapshot: U.S. stocks in broad retreat as latest China tariffs rekindle trade-war jitters

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U.S. stocks are poised to snap a four-session winning streak Wednesday after the Trump administration announced new tariffs on Chinese goods, further escalating tensions between the U.S. and its major trading partners, which some investors fear could morph into a full-on trade war.

What are markets doing?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average

DJIA, -0.80%

fell 212 points, or 0.9%, to 24,706. The S&P 500

SPX, -0.63%

was down 20 points, or 0.7%, to 2,773. The Nasdaq Composite Index

COMP, -0.47%

 shed 46 points, or 0.6% to 7,713.

The day’s downturn was broad based, with 10 of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors lower on the day. Among the biggest losers were the materials and the industrial sectors, both of which are seen as being among the most correlated to trade issues. Also weighing on the broad market was the energy sector, which tumbled more than 1% alongside a steep drop in the price of crude oil. The price of oil lost nearly 2% and was volatile after the latest inventory data.

What is driving the markets?

The White House late Tuesday said it would assess 10% tariffs on a further $200 billion in Chinese goods. The move is seen as deepening the rift with Beijing and sending a message to other trading partners that the U.S. is willing to escalate a trade fight. The U.S. last week hit Beijing with levies on $34 billion in goods, and Beijing retaliated with tariffs of the same amount. A final decision on the products to be hit with the new tariffs is expected after a consultation period in late August.

China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that the new levies are “totally unacceptable” and that the behavior is hurting not just China but the whole world.

Recent gains in the market have come as Wall Street shifts its attention to coming second-quarter earnings season, which is expected to show strong profit growth. Such signs of a robust economy, along with improving economic data, could provide a floor under equity prices, just as the trade issue serves as a ceiling.

What are analysts saying?

“This is different from the other trade announcements, because the size is significantly larger, and because China is unable to directly reciprocate at $200 billion because they don’t import that much. It’s unclear what it might do next, but it is clearly another step closer to a full-blown trade war,” said David Carter, who oversees about $2 billion as chief investment officer at Lenox Wealth Advisors.

“If the trade skirmish escalates into a full-blown trade war, that will be a bigger force in the markets than the strong fundamentals.”

“Even though the tariffs actually imposed up to now are relatively small in comparison to overall trade flows and GDP, it is hard to see how a full-blown trade war can be avoided at this stage. There is no-one left in the administration or in Congress to rein in President Donald Trump’s long-held protectionist beliefs and other countries are not shying away from the fight,” said Paul Ashworth, Chief U.S. economist at Capital Economics.

What’s on the economic calendar?

The June producer-price index rose 0.3%, as did the core PPI, which excludes volatile food and energy. The 12-month rate of wholesale inflation, meanwhile, climbed to 3.4% from 3.1%, marking the highest perch since the waning months of 2011.

Separately, wholesale inventories rose 0.6% in May.

Among Federal Reserve speakers, New York Fed President John Williams will give a speech on the economy to Brooklyn Town Hall at the Brooklyn Law School at 4:30 p.m. Eastern.

Which stocks are in focus?

Among notable industrial stocks, Boeing Co.

BA, -1.88%

 fell 1.8% while 3M Co.

MMM, -1.49%

 was off 1.6% and Caterpillar Inc.

CAT, -3.14%

 fell 3%. All three were among the biggest drags on the Dow.

In the energy space, Chevron Corp.

CVX, -3.10%

 lost 2.9%. Halliburton Co.

HAL, -2.59%

 was down 2%. Both Occidental Petroleum

OXY, -1.91%

 and Marathon Oil

MRO, -2.80%

 fell 1.7%, while Dow component Exxon Mobil Corp.

XOM, -1.58%

 was off 1.4%.

Shares of 21st Century Fox Inc.

FOXA, -3.78%

 fell 3.6% after the media company significantly lifted its offer price to takeover Sky PLC

SKY, -0.50%

The move is heating up a bidding war with Comcast Corp.

CMCSA, +1.02%

which is also interested in buying the British broadcaster. Comcast shares rose 1.3%.

Altaba Inc.

AABA, -2.59%

 fell 2.5% after Gabelli & Co. downgraded the stock to hold, citing its recent announcement that it would sell part of its stake in yahoo Japan.

Pfizer Inc.

PFE, -0.53%

 is organizing itself into three different businesses as it continues to mull the future of its over-the-counter medicines unit. The stock fell 0.6%.

Shares of Nvidia Corp.

NVDA, -2.08%

 dropped 2% after the tech company late Tuesday announced a partnership with German car maker Daimler AG

DAI, -1.66%

 and auto-parts giant Bosch Ltd. to test robot taxis in California.

Fastenal Co.

FAST, +10.05%

 rose 10% after the company late Tuesday said its board raised the quarterly dividend to 40 cents a share from 37 cents a share. The fastener manufacturer also reported better-than-expected second-quarter earnings of 74 cents a share.

What are other markets doing?

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index

DXY, +0.62%

 was slightly higher while the yen

USDJPY, +0.93%

was weaker against dollars. The buck bought ¥111.90, up from ¥111.00 late Tuesday in New York.

Asian markets closed mostly lower in reaction to the tariff news, with the Shanghai Composite

SHCOMP, -1.76%

 sliding by 1.8%. European stocks

SXXP, -1.26%

 were red across the board.

Oil prices

CLQ8, -4.25%

 tumbled on the day, and gold futures slumped

GCQ8, -1.00%

 were both in decline.

—Sara Sjolin contributed to this article

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