U.S. stock futures and Asian shares tumbled on Thursday after Canadian authorities arrested a top executive of Chinese tech giant Huawei for extradition to the United States, feeding fears of a fresh flare-up in tensions between the two superpowers.
The news came as Washington and Beijing begin three months of negotiations aimed at de-escalating their bruising trade war, which is adding to lingering investor jitters over higher U.S. interest rates and other risks to global economic growth.
S&P500 e-mini futures fell almost 2 per cent at one point in thin Asian morning trade and were last were down 1.3 per cent.
The losses in the first few minutes of trading might have been even steeper, but CME Group’s Chicago Mercantile Exchange implemented a series of 10-second trading halts that helped limit the initial drop.
Japan’s Nikkei slumped 1.8 per cent by the midday break, with semiconductor related shares leading the losses. Huawei is one of the world’s largest makers of smartphones and telecommunications network equipment.
MSCI’s ex-Japan Asia-Pacific index fell 1.7 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 2.7 per cent while Shanghai shares dipped 1.2 per cent.
Canadian authorities said they had arrested Huawei’s global chief financial officer in Vancouver, where she is facing extradition to the United States.
The arrest is related to violations of U.S. sanctions, a person familiar with the matter said, though officials have so far stayed mum on her allegations.
The arrest heightened the sense of a major collision between the world’s two largest economic powers not just over tariffs but also over technological hegemony.
Britain’s BT Group said it was removing Huawei’s equipment from the core of its existing 3G and 4G mobile operations. Australia and New Zealand have also rejected Huawei’s products.
“The U.S. has been telling its allies not to use Huawei products for security reasons and is likely to continue to put pressure on its allies,” said Norihiro Fujito, chief investment strategist at Mitsubishi UFJ Morgan Stanley Securities.
“So while there was a brief moment of optimism after the weekend U.S.-China talks but the reality is, it won’t be that easy,” he said.
Hong Kong-listed shares of Chinasoft International Ltd shed as much as 13 per cent in response to news of the arrest. Huawei is a key client of Chinasoft.
WORRIES ABOUT SLOWER U.S. GROWTH
Markets had initially brightened after U.S. and Chinese leaders agreed a temporary trade truce at a meeting on Saturday. But the mood has quickly soured on skepticism that the two sides can reach a substantive deal on a host of hugely divisive issues within the tight 90-day time frame set out.
The benchmark Treasury 10-year yield fell 1.8 basis points to 2.903 per cent, near Tuesday’s three-month low of 2.885 per cent. U.S. markets were closed on Wednesday to mark the death of former President George H.W. Bush.
The yield curve remained inverted between two– and five-year zones, with five-year notes yielding 2.780 per cent, below 2.797 per cent on two-year notes.
“Worries about a U.S. economic slowdown are deepening as housing and other interest rate-sensitive sectors seem to have been hit,” said Shuji Shirota, head of macro economic strategy at HSBC.
“If the upcoming U.S. jobs data on Friday shows some weakness, markets will face a major challenge,” he added.
The inversion is a symptom of a weak economy, said Bryan Whalen, group managing director of TCW in Los Angeles, noting the U.S. economy has not been able to achieve sustainable economic growth of more than two per cent in recent years.
“If the U.S. couldn’t break the two per cent growth environment, with zero-bound interest rates and a rapidly expanding balance sheet early in the economic cycle, why would you ever think we could do it when interest rates are rising and balance sheet is shrinking and we are basically 9-10 years into an aging economic cycle,” he said.
“It’s hard to envision a scenario where U.S. growth doesn’t dip down, if not kind of going into a recession.”
Oil prices fell slightly in tepid trading ahead of a meeting by producer group OPEC that is expected to result in a supply cut aimed at draining a glut that has pulled down crude prices by 30 per cent since October.
A monitoring committee of OPEC and its allies, including Russia, agreed on the need to cut oil output in 2019, two sources familiar with the discussions said.
Still, lack of details could suggest such an agreement could be elusive, some analysts also said.
U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures were at $52.63 per barrel at 0248 GMT, down 26 cents, or 0.5 per cent, from their last close. Brent crude oil futures were down 19 cents, or 0.3 per cent, at $61.35 per barrel.
In the currency market, the dollar fell 0.4 per cent against the yen to 112.78 yen on a risk-averse mood while the Australian dollar shed 0.6 per cent to $0.7227.
The yuan eased 0.2 per cent to 6.8770 per dollar in offshore trade while the euro traded flat at $1.1345.
Sterling dipped 0.1 per cent to $1.2725 as Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal faced fresh criticism from allies and opponents alike.