Global markets slump as trade-war tensions escalate

Key Points
  • Asia markets close sharply lower with the Nikkei 225 falling 4.5 percent after earlier dropping to its lowest levels in more than five months.
  • In Europe, the pan-European Stoxx 600 was down more than 1 percent at around 9 a.m. London time.
A trader works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Lucas Jackson | Reuters

Stock markets around the world saw sharp falls Friday, with investors worrying over a potential trade war.

Asia markets closed sharply lower with the Nikkei 225 falling 4.5 percent after dropping to its lowest levels in more than five months. The Japanese benchmark also fell 4.88 percent for the week. Major exporters were downbeat, with Honda Motor falling 5.27 percent and Sony losing 2.73 percent.

The broader Topix lost 3.62 percent amid a broad-based sell-off. The Topix machinery and mining indexes were among the biggest losers, falling 5.62 percent and 4.45 percent, respectively.

Greater China markets skidded, with Hong Kong's Hang Seng closing down 2.45 percent, the Shanghai composite dropping 3.38 percent to close at 3,153.09 and the Shenzhen composite losing 4.49 percent to end at 1,766.61.

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In Europe, the pan-European Stoxx 600 was down around 1 percent at 1 p.m. London time. Technology, autos and basic resources stocks were all trading more than 1 percent lower.

Stern response from Beijing

President Donald Trump moved toward long-promised anti-China tariffs on Thursday, triggering a stern response from Beijing. Chinese authorities said they could hit 128 U.S. products with tariffs in response to Trump's plan to slap charges on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese products.

Trump said the taxes were intended to penalize Beijing for allegedly stealing Washington's intellectual property. The decision from the White House sent the Dow Jones briefly into correction territory on Thursday.

Trading the five Dow stocks in bear market territory

U.S. stocks fell sharply Thursday, pressured by a decline in tech shares as well as the worries of a potential trade war. The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 724.42 points to close at 23,957.89, with Caterpillar, 3M and Boeing as the biggest decliners. The 2.9 percent decline was the worst since Feb. 8.

'We don't downplay the potential risks'

Analysts at Swiss bank UBS said Friday it was important not to overstate the direct impact of these tariffs on the global economy or equity markets at this stage.

"We don't downplay the potential risks. This latest action is likely to have a negative effect on Asian exports, which are currently growing at 12-13 percent a year," the analysts said in a note.

UBS said investors should ensure portfolios are well-diversified, and could even consider equity put options to reduce portfolio volatility. Put options are financial instruments that give traders an option to sell assets at an agreed price on a particular date. They allow traders to hedge their portfolios.

"Our global tactical asset allocation remains pro-risk, to benefit from still-strong global economic growth, but we also hold counter-cyclical positions, including an overweight in 10-year U.S. Treasurys, and an overweight in JPYNZD (the Japanese yen and New Zealand dollar cross), that should perform if the market starts to price in a full scale trade war," the analysts said.

—CNBC's Fred Imbert, Cheang Ming and Silvia Amaro contributed to this report.