Asia Markets

Asian markets sell off after Trump's tariff announcement; Nikkei leads losses

Key Points
  • Asian stocks slid on Friday, with the Nikkei 225 leading losses in the region. Steel producers and automakers in Asia declined sharply.
  • U.S. President Donald Trump said that the U.S. will impose tariffs of 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum.
  • The dollar extended losses against the yen after BOJ Governor Kuroda said the central bank would consider exiting easy monetary policy if inflation targets are met.

Asian stocks closed lower on Friday, with steel producers and automaker names recording steep drops. The fall in regional markets tracked sharp losses on Wall Street following a tariff announcement from U.S. President Donald Trump.

Trump said on Thursday that the U.S. will impose tariffs of 25 percent for steel and 10 percent for aluminum. The tariffs will be implemented broadly, without targeting specific countries.

Markets stateside fell on the news as investors worried about retaliatory actions from U.S. trade partners that could potentially result in a trade war. In addition, tariffs are also seen as inflationary as they could mean higher prices for consumers.

Japan's trade minister responded to the news on Friday, saying that Japanese steel exports were not a threat to U.S. national security, Reuters reported, citing local wire service Jiji.

Canada, the largest source of U.S. steel imports, indicated it would respond to U.S. tariffs with its own measures. The European Union, meanwhile, said it would "react firmly and commensurately" to defend its interests.

"Given uncertainty whether the move presages a path of increased tariff application for the U.S., we expect risk sentiment to remain fragile for now," Chang Wei Liang, a strategist at Mizuho Bank, said in a note.

Steel, automaker stocks hurt

In Tokyo, the benchmark fell 542.83 points, or 2.5 percent, to end at 21,181.64, as the yen firmed. Steel stocks were sharply lower on the day: JFE Holdings declined 2.6 percent and Kobe Steel lost 2.68 percent.

Automakers, which make use of steel and aluminum products, also tracked losses seen stateside. Honda Motor and Toyota Motor sank 3.78 percent and 2.37 percent, respectively.

Other sectors, including technology, were also firmly lower. Sony lost 1.23 percent and SoftBank Group tumbled 3.55 percent.

Against the safe haven yen, the dollar extended losses after two straight days of declines to trade at 105.88.

The greenback's decline against the yen steepened late in Asian trade following comments from Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda. Kuroda said the central bank would think about exiting easy monetary policy if its inflation target was met in fiscal year 2019, Reuters reported.

Elsewhere, the Kospi declined 1.04 percent to finish at 2,402.16, with technology and manufacturing stocks mostly trading lower. Index heavyweight Samsung Electronics fell 2.21 percent by the end of the day, although SK Hynix rose 0.78 percent.

Meanwhile, steelmaker Posco and Hyundai Steel dropped 3.6 percent and 2.99 percent, respectively. Automakers were also firmly in negative territory, with Hyundai Motor down 3.41 percent.

Although South Korea is among the top three sources of U.S. steel imports, it might not be too badly hurt as steel is predominantly traded within Asia, according to Moody's Investors Service.

"The direct impact [of the tariffs] is moderate on Korean steelmakers to low on all the rest of Asia," Marie Diron, managing director of Moody's Investors Service, said in a statement.

Down Under, the S&P/ASX 200 edged down 0.74 percent to close at 5,928.9, with gold producers the only sector to finish the day in the green. Gold stocks rose 1.06 percent. Mining majors were lower, with Rio Tinto sinking 1.27 percent. Meanwhile, Bluescope Steel rose 0.8 percent.

Greater China markets followed regional markets lower, with Hong Kong's falling 1.41 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN. Large cap names were downbeat: China Construction Bank was down 2.68 percent, Tencent lost 1.88 percent and insurer AIA sank 1.98 percent about an hour before the market close.

Mainland markets saw more moderate declines than their regional peers. The closed 0.59 percent lower at 3,254.58 and the Shenzhen composite slipped 0.64 percent.

Steel and aluminum stocks listed on the mainland recorded steep losses as markets reacted to news about U.S. tariffs, with Baoshan Steel falling 3.9 percent. Shares of Alumimium Corporation of China, or Chalco, lost 2.02 percent.

U.S. markets slid in the last session on the back of Trump's announcement, with stock indexes recording losses of more than 1 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average closed 420.22 points to close at 24,608.98, despite advancing more than 150 points earlier in the session.

Markets also took note of Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell's Thursday testimony before the Senate Finance Committee. Powell said that he did not currently see any signs of overheating in the U.S. economy.

On Friday, U.S. stock index futures traded mixed during Asia afternoon trade, with Dow futures off by 46 points following the sell-off overnight.

The dollar index, which tracks the greenback against its rivals, edged lower to trade at 90.189 by 2:45 p.m. HK/SIN, a touch below Thursday's close of 90.242 and off a high of 90.932 hit overnight.