The arrest of a high-profile Chinese telecom executive at the behest of the U.S. government sent fear into financial markets that it could complicate talks between the U.S. and China, reigniting trade wars and wreaking damage on the global economy.
Canadian officials arrested Huawei Technologies CFO Meng Wanzhou, the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, founder of the Chinese telecoms group, in Vancouver, on Saturday. Meng, also a deputy chairwoman of Huawei, faces extradition to the U.S. for alleged violations of sanctions on Iran.
The arrest took place the same day U.S. President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping met in Buenos Aires and agreed to a trade ceasefire for 90 days while the two sides negotiate. News of the arrest was reported Wednesday night, and it immediately hit U.S. stocks and sent global markets into a tailspin. The dollar weakened against major currencies.
"I'm shocked there's been no word from the administration. The market is down 450 points on this and there's not been one word," said Peter Boockvar, chief investment strategist of Bleakley Advisory Group."Imagine if the CFO of Apple was arrested by the Chinese in some foreign country, and the CFO happened to be the son of Steve Jobs. This is not some low-level person."
National Security Advisor John Bolton did comment in an interview with NPR that he knew about the arrest in advance but did not know if the president was aware. He would not discuss the particulars of the Meng case, but he did say the U.S. is not happy with Huawei.
"I'd rather not get into the specifics of law enforcement matters. But we've had enormous concerns for years about the— in this country — about the practice of Chinese firms to use stolen American intellectual property, to engage in forced technology transfers, and to be used as arms of the Chinese governments objectives in terms of information technology in particular. So not respecting this particular arrest, but Huawei is one company we've been concerned about. There are others as well. I think this is going to be a major subject of the negotiations that President Trump and President Xi Jinping agreed to in Buenos Aires," Bolton said to NPR.
Concerns about the trade talks have already been taking a toll on the market, with the Dow down nearly 800 points Tuesday. Markets were closed Wednesday for President George H.W. Bush's funeral service.
The Dow plunged more than 400 points on the market opening Thursday, and fell more than 750 points but erased some losses and was down about 400 again in afternoon trading. The S&P 500, the Nasdaq and Russell 2000 were all officially in correction territory Thursday morning — or more than 10 percent off their highs. Nearly half the stocks in the S&P 500 are in bear market territory — down 20 percent or more.
"For those that are fixated on U.S. China relations, i think it's a problem," said Jack Ablin, CIO at Cresset Wealth Management. While it's unclear, how the arrest will impact talks, it elevates uncertainty.
"When you have the world's largest economy in a trade war with the world's second largest economy, it's going to leave a mark. I just don't know how large a mark it's going to be. What was originally thought to be a tactic quickly morphed into a strategy, and and now investors worry it's turning into policy, and I don't think that's what President Trump anticipated," Ablin said.
Huawei is viewed as one of China's most successful technology firms, and Deutsche Bank says that the arrest puts Beijing in an "awkward position."
"Public opinion in China will likely become more negative in respect to the trade war, and potentially against US companies. The government may find it difficult to tell the public that they have offered significant concessions to the US. The trade talk has just been resumed at the G20 meeting; now its outlook has darkened," Deutsche analysts wrote..