LONDON: World equities markets were in the red Thursday as trade war fears ratcheted higher after the United States said it was looking at more than doubling threatened tariffs on a range of Chinese imports.
In London, investors’ expectations were vindicated as the Bank of England hiked its key interest rate by a quarter-point to 0.75 percent.
The British central bank’s nine-member monetary policy committee voted unanimously to raise rates for only the second time since the global financial crisis, but left unchanged its quantitative easing stimulus, just as most analysts had expected.
More broadly, US and European markets followed in the footsteps of Asian trading floors, which sank after the US administration confirmed it was considering hiking levies to 25 percent from the announced 10 percent on $200 billion of Chinese goods.
Should the US follow through, it would be “a considerable step-up in the trade dispute between US and China and would start to seriously threaten global growth”, wrote Konstantinos Anthis, head of research at ADSS.
China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Thursday called on the US to remain “cool-headed”, but that appeal alone appeared to do little to shift the mood on trading floors.
In Germany, the DAX blue chip index was down 1.6 percent in afternoon trading, with analysts blaming US tariff threats that would hit car manufacturers especially hard.
Aside from the threatened duties on Chinese imports, President Donald Trump has also warned the US may impose hefty tariffs on cars imported from the European Union, after already imposing steel and aluminium levies.
– ‘Bravo to BoE’ –
Investors and analysts welcomed the BoE’s interest rate announcement, with head of research at London Capital Group Jasper Lawler tweeting: “Bravo to BOE for finally putting rates on course to something normal.”
However he added: “Shame it has left it so late that chances of a quick reversal are much higher.”
Rising interest rates are a boon for savers but ramp up the cost of credit for consumers and companies.
On currency markets, the pound edged slightly higher in response to the rate hike, only to then drop below the level seen just before the meeting.
“The pound’s sharp decline could be based on investors acknowledging that today’s rate hike is a ‘one-and-done’ move,” wrote Lukman Otunuga, research analyst at FXTM.
“With Brexit uncertainty, cooling inflationary pressures and global trade tensions likely to obstruct the central bank’s efforts to raise interest rates, the pound remains vulnerable to downside risks,” he added.
The BoE’s decision came a day after the US Federal Reserve held its fire on interest rates, even as it highlighted the strength of the US economy and labour markets, indicating rate hikes ahead.
On the oil markets, higher oil production in petrol kings Saudi Arabia and Russia coupled with global trade war fears weighed down on prices Thursday, according to a note from Commerzbank.