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Global Markets Roiled On Fears Trump May Set Off Trade War, Military Conflicts

Global markets for stocks, bonds, and oil have been roiled by rising fears among investors that recent moves by U.S. President Donald Trump have raised the odds of a trade war as well as a U.S. military conflict with Iran or North Korea.

Trump's appointment of John Bolton, who has called for military action against Iran and North Korea, as his top national security adviser helped fuel a sharp rise in global oil prices on March 23 amid fears that Iran's oil exports could be hit.

Premium-crude prices soared $1.24 to $70.15 a barrel in London trading, hitting a two-month high.

"It is difficult to find someone more hawkish than Bolton and almost impossible to find any article that does not associate his name with either 'war' or 'bomb,' and usually those words are also associated with 'Iran'," Olivier Jakob, an oil analyst at Petromatrix, said.

"Combined with the nomination of [CIA Director] Mike Pompeo, another hawk, at the State Department, most of the market will conclude that at the minimum the Iranian nuclear deal is dead," Jakob added.

"The only contrarian argument that we can find is that President Trump does not always listen to his advisers, but it is difficult to build a trading strategy based on that," he said.

CMC Markets analyst Michael Hewson told AFP that "the appointment of Mr. Bolton, who is no fan of the Iran nuclear deal, has prompted concern about renewed efforts to overturn the nuclear deal that has seen Iranian exports return to the market."

The U.S. dollar also fell in global trading on March 23 amid fears that the appointment of Bolton will lead to military conflicts with Iran or North Korea.

Meanwhile, global stocks plummeted on March 23 as the threat of a trade war between the world's two largest economies loomed.

Trump on March 22 announced he will impose tariffs of up to $60 billion on exports from China, which prompted Beijing to warn that it may retaliate with tariffs on imports from the United States.

Major U.S. stock indexes lost around 2 percent of their value, capping their worst week in two years. Germany's DAX lost 1.8 percent and the French CAC-40 fell 1.4 percent.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 index plunged 4.5 percent and South Korea's Kospi tumbled 3.2 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng lost 2.5 percent, while China's Shanghai Composite Index plummeted 3.64 percent.

A gauge of stocks across the world put out by MSCI fell nearly 2 percent and lost 3.4 percent of its value during the week.

"The equity markets are getting clobbered, which is not that surprising with fears of a trade war breaking out," Paul Fage, a TD Securities strategist, told Reuters.

Trump has also imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from around the world, although he temporarily suspended the tariffs on members of the European Union and several other U.S. allies.

Trump on March 23 insisted that his tough policies were forcing trading partners to negotiate new trade deals more favorable to the United States.

But China and the EU warned Washington that they will not hold talks while being threatened. China said it did not want a trade war, but it would "fight to the end" if the United States started one.

China, which holds $1.2 trillion of Treasury bonds and is the largest foreign investor in U.S. Treasury debt, also said it would not rule out the possibility of scaling back purchases of U.S. bonds as one option for retaliating against Trump's tariffs.

The possibility China might halt or curtail its purchases of Treasury bonds, possibly causing a sharp rise in interest rates worldwide, has long been a fear among global investors.

The U.S. Treasury bond market has historically been considered a "safe haven" -- a safe place to put investments during times of global turmoil. It was one of the few financial markets where prices rose amid the turmoil of the past week.

With reporting by AP, AFP, and Reuters
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