U.S. stocks closed down Thursday as Wall Street braced for an escalation in the trade conflict between the U.S. and China, with both sides making tariff threats against one another, even as trade talks were set to resume late Thursday afternoon.
Shortly after the opening bell, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down more than 400 points, but in early afternoon trading major indexes had reversed much of the loss.
Beijing's threat responds to Trump's decision, announced over the weekend, to slap an additional 25 percent tariff on $325 billion worth of Chinese goods, which the administration says will kick in Friday at 12:01 a.m. ET.
China's Commerce Ministry said on its website that the "Chinese side deeply regrets that if the U.S. tariff measures are implemented, China will have to take necessary countermeasures," according to Reuters.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Beijing took comments this week by Trump and Vice President Mike Pence that the Fed should cut interest rates as a sign the White House is worried about the U.S. economy and, thus, ready to make concessions.
Mei Xinyu, an analyst at a think tank affiliated with China’s Commerce Ministry, said, “Why would you be constantly asking the Fed to lower rates if your economy is not turning weak,” according to the Journal.
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The trade tensions have been weighing on markets. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are already on track for their worst week of 2019, specifically, since the week ending Dec. 21 when they tumbled more than 7 percent.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average is looking at its largest weekly since March 8. However, if the Dow falls more than 49 points on Thursday, the blue-chip index will also suffer its worst week since Dec. 21, 2019.
The S&P 500 and Nasdaq are on track for a fourth day of losses, which would be the longest losing streak in two months, since five days of losses ending March 8.
Chevron shares rose after it declined Thursday to make a counteroffer for Anadarko Petroleum, the big Permian basin producer that said it would accept an Occidental Petroleum offer, which it deemed superior to Chevron's bid.
Crude oil prices declined to $61.38 per barrel.
The U.S. trade deficit with China fell to a five-year low in March -- the lowest since March 2014 -- dropping to $20.7 billion from $24.8 billion in February.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury slipped to 2.44 percent.
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Worries about the equity downdraft may be unwarranted.
"Even a bull market doesn’t always go in one direction, and even this year we’ve seen dips like this before," Mike Loewengart, vice president for investment strategy at E*TRADE Financial, said.
"There is always going to be something for the bears to sink their teeth into. This week that’s trade, and when you think about just how much uncertainty there is on that front, the dip we’re seeing is really not that substantial. To be sure things could get far worse, but if you look at the remarkable trajectory of the market so far this year, this week’s declines are a minor speedbump at this point."
The stock market's current retreat could be opportunities for investors, according to one expert.
"Many investors have been waiting for a pullback to deploy capital that was otherwise late to the first-quarter 2019 rally," Jamie Cox, managing partner for Harris Financial Group, said. "Now you have your chance. No one really knows how the trade situation will turn out, but everyone should be able to figure out that if you liked Microsoft at $130, you should love it at $125."
China’s Shanghai Composite closed down 1.48 percent, the Hang Seng was off 2.39 percent and Japan’s Nikkei 225 declined 0.93 percent.
Britain’s FTSE 100 was down 0.39 percent, France’s CAC 40 fell 1.32 percent and Germany’s DAX retreated 0.95 percent.