SYDNEY (Reuters) - Shares faltered and the dollar skidded on Wednesday as investors fretted over the threat of new U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, brushing aside data that showed the Asian economy got off to a solid start in 2018.
Investor appetite for risk was also hit by U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to fire his Secretary of State, regarded as a moderate in his administration, reinforcing market uncertainty about Trump’s future policies.
In a sign the equity market sell-off would extend elsewhere, S&P E-Mini futures ESc1 were down 0.1 percent while FTSE futures FFIc1 slipped 0.3 percent.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan .MIAPJ0000PUS stumbled 0.7 percent, retreating from a 1-1/2 month high on Tuesday, with the technology sector the biggest drag.
The MSCI Asia ex-Japan IT index MIAX0IT00PUS declined 0.5 percent as Trump sought to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion against information technology, consumer electronics and telecoms.
“A full-on global trade war is unlikely but there may not be much peace on the trade front either,” said Sydney-based AMP Chief Economist Shane Oliver. “A U.S.-China trade war is the main risk.”
Investors suspect policymakers who favor protectionism will also seek to use the currency as a trade weapon, if not overtly then through benign neglect.
As news from the United States dominated, the market shrugged off stronger-than-expected data from China which showed the country’s industrial output expanded at a surprisingly faster pace at the start of the year. Fixed asset investment also handily beat forecasts, while retail sales improved from December.
“The latest Chinese economic data is very encouraging,” said Craig James, Sydney-based chief economist at CommSec.
“The economy is well placed to weather any increase in U.S. tariff rates. In fact, the Chinese statistical bureau is tipping ‘relatively fast growth’ for both exports and consumption in 2018.”
Still, investors were inconsolable and followed overnight losses on Wall Street with the Dow .DJI off 0.7 percent, the S&P 500 .SPX down 0.6 percent and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC falling 1.0 percent.
The selling intensified after Trump dismissed Tillerson following a series of public rifts over policy on North Korea, Russia and Iran. He was replaced with loyalist CIA Director Mike Pompeo.
The move comes only days after the exit of White House economic advisor Gary Cohn who was a strong proponent of free trade.
“Tillerson’s departure has left some worrying that it provides