June 19, 2018 / 9:08 AM / 4 months ago

GLOBAL MARKETS-Trade war worries slam China and emerging markets

* Risk sentiment hurt as Trump threatens China with new tariffs

* China shares slump almost 4 percent

* MSCI Asia-Pacific index slides to lowest since early Feb

* European stocks open 1-1.5 percent low, Wall Street futures down

* Yen, Treasuries, Bunds and gold gain

* Crude oil prices dip after overnight rally loses steam

By Marc Jones

LONDON, June 19 (Reuters) - Chinese stocks fell almost 4 percent and alarm bells rang across global markets on Tuesday, as the trade dispute between the United States and China escalated further.

The yuan also hit a five-month low overnight after U.S. President Donald Trump’s threat to impose a 10 percent tariff on another $200 billion of Chinese goods drew warnings from Beijing about $50 billion of retaliatory penalties on U.S. goods.

Asian stocks wilted to a four-month low and Australia’s dollar and South Africa’s rand were among a diverse group of currencies caught in the crossfire.

Europe’s main equity benchmarks sank 1 to 1.5 percent in early trading and Wall Street futures were pointing to similar falls there later, while safe-haven government bonds and the Japanese yen rallied as investors sought protection.

“You only have to look at how far the main Shanghai index has fallen to see that people would probably want some safe-haven assets at this point,” said DZ Bank analyst Andy Cossor.

China had warned it will take “qualitative” and “quantitative” measures if the U.S. government publishes an additional list of tariffs on its products.

The trade frictions have unnerved financial markets, with investors and businesses increasingly worried that a full-blown trade battle could derail global growth.

“Trump appears to be employing a similar tactic he used with North Korea, by blustering first in order to gain an advantage in negotiations,” said Kota Hirayama, senior emerging markets economist at SMBC Nikko Securities in Tokyo.

“The problem is, such a tactic is unlikely to work with China.”

GREAT FALL OF CHINA

MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.9 percent to its lowest since early December. The losses had intensified through the day as the rout deepened in China.

The Shanghai Composite Index slumped nearly 5 percent at one point to its lowest level since mid-2016, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed as much 3 percent before ending 2.8 percent down.

China’s economy is already clouded by a sharp slowdown in fixed asset investment growth due to the government’s deleveraging drive, a problematic property sector, a mounting debt burden and rising credit defaults

Economists at Nomura wrote, “The rising risk of a disruptive trade conflict makes a bad situation tentatively worse.”

Japan’s Nikkei lost 1.8 percent, South Korea’s KOSPI retreated 1.3 percent while Australian stocks bucked the trend and added 0.1 percent, helped by a depreciating currency and an overnight bounce in commodity prices.

The dollar fell 0.75 percent to 109.715 yen following Trump’s tariff comments. The yen is often sought in times of market turmoil and political tensions.

It made ground on the euro in early European trading, however, to stand 0.3 percent higher at $1.1556.

China’s yuan skidded to a five-month low. The Australian dollar, often seen as a proxy for China-related trades, brushed a one-year low of $0.7381.

EYES ON OPEC

With Russia and Saudi Arabia pushing for higher output, crude oil markets remained volatile ahead of Friday’s OPEC meeting.

Brent crude futures fell 0.8 percent to $74.76 a barrel after rallying 2.5 percent overnight, while U.S. light crude futures retreated 0.9 percent to $65.27.

Lower-risk assets gained on the latest round of trade threats. Spot gold was up 0.35 percent at $1,282.26 an ounce albeit after its sharpest drop in 1-1/2 years late last week.

The 10-year U.S. Treasury note yield touched 2.871 percent, its lowest since June 1. Most European bond yields dropped too, with Germany’s 10-year government Bund, the benchmark for the region, at a two-week low of 0.363 percent.

Italian government bonds, which are considered less safe and have suffered from recent domestic political ructions, sold off, with their 10-year yields up 3 bps at 2.59 percent.

But the stress was highest in emerging markets, where the average yield on domestic currency debt was the highest since March 2017 and fast approaching 7 percent.

“Escalation (of trade tensions) is a sort of impossible thing to forecast, but if it stops at this level you have probably created some nice risk premia in Asia and emerging markets,” said Hans Peterson, global head of asset allocation at SEB Investment Management.

“So if it doesn’t get worse it is probably a buying opportunity.”

Additional reporting by Shinichi Saoshiro in Toyko and Abhinav Ramnarayan in London Editing by Catherine Evans

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