Asia Markets

Asian stocks close mixed after Trump's new tariff threat

Key Points
  • Asian markets closed mixed on Friday.
  • President Donald Trump said late on Thursday during U.S. hours that he has told U.S. trade officials to consider $100 billion in extra tariffs against China.
  • Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index bucked the trend to rise more than 1 percent ahead of the market close.
  • The yen firmed following Trump's announcement, but later pared gains.

Asian stocks closed mixed on Friday, as the overnight rally on Wall Street failed to translate after President Donald Trump indicated that more tariffs against China could be in the works.

Still, losses in the region were slighter compared to the sell-offs on the back of trade news last month. MSCI's index of shares in Asia Pacific excluding Japan were roughly flat at 3:15 p.m. HK/SIN.

Trump said late on Thursday during U.S. hours that he has told U.S. trade officials to consider $100 billion in extra tariffs against China. The president added that the move would be appropriate given China's "unfair retaliation," although he left the door open for negotiation.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said those additional tariffs would not be implemented until a public comment process was concluded.

In response, China's commerce ministry said that it would fight back should the U.S. move forward with protectionist trade measures, Xinhua reported.

Japan's slipped 0.36 percent, or 77.9 points, to close at 21,567.52 amid choppy trade. Despite the move lower amid elevated trade tensions, the benchmark finished the week higher by around 0.5 percent.

The broader Topix finished off by 0.31 percent, with the real estate and shipping sectors among the worst-performing.

Meanwhile, South Korea's Kospi slipped 0.33 percent to end at 2,429.58, paring steeper declines seen earlier in the session.

Over in Australia, the S&P/ASX 200 closed flat at 5,788.70, with gains in the materials and energy subindexes offset by declines in heavily weighted financials.

Hong Kong's rose 1.09 percent by 3:00 p.m. HK/SIN, shrugging off jitters seen in the rest of the region as markets returned from a one-day holiday. The heavily weighted financials sector traded in positive territory and index heavyweight Tencent advanced 1.96 percent an hour ahead of the market close.

Meanwhile, U.S. stock index futures tumbled following the latest trade-related development, with Dow Jones industrial average futures last lower by around 200 points. S&P 500 and Nasdaq futures also came under pressure during Asia hours.

Earlier, U.S. and European markets had advanced in the last session as trade fears among investors eased in the last session. The Dow rose nearly 1 percent and the pan-European Stoxx 600 surged 2.4 percent on Thursday.

Markets in mainland China, Taiwan and Thailand were closed on Friday.

Trade tensions back in focus

Investor concerns over recent U.S.-China trade rhetoric have been in focus in the past month. Markets have been on edge over trade tensions potentially triggering a trade war between the two largest economies in the world.

"Capricious policies make for volatile markets," Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Cresset Wealth Advisors, said regarding Trump's latest statement on tariffs.

China on Wednesday unveiled plans for additional tariffs on 106 U.S. products. That came after the Trump administration released of its list of Chinese imports that could be targeted with proposed tariffs.

Although Trump's Thursday announcement raised concerns that there could be more uncertainty ahead, some in the markets indicated that the move could also be part of Trump's negotiation tactics.

The safe-haven yen pared the gains it made following the latest trade comments from Trump. Against the yen, the dollar traded at 107.38 by 2:45 p.m. HK/SIN, trading at levels seen before the statement.

The dollar had touched its highest levels against the yen in three weeks in the overnight session amid improved investor confidence on Thursday.

"Markets are digesting the fact that most of the tough trade tariff talk is unlikely to result in action that will upset global growth or even come to fruition," Richard Grace, chief currency strategist and head of international economics at Commonwealth Bank of Australia, said in a morning note regarding the dollar's overnight move higher.

The dollar index, which tracks the U.S. currency against six peers, firmed slightly to trade at 90.469.

Besides concerns related to the possibility of a trade war, investors also awaited the release of U.S. March nonfarm payrolls due during U.S. hours. Economists estimated around 193,000 jobs were likely added last month, according to a Reuters poll.

In corporate news, Samsung Electronics said its first-quarter operating profit was expected to climb 57.6 percent compared to one year ago, Reuters said. The forecast profit of 15.6 trillion won ($14.7 billion) was above a Thomson Reuters estimate of 14.5 trillion won. Samsung stock was down 0.7 percent.

Meanwhile, shares of Takeda Pharmaceutical tumbled 5.03 percent. The decline came on the back of comments from its CEO, who made the case for buying London-listed drugmaker Shire at a Thursday briefing, Reuters reported.

— CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report.