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Dow gains slightly as Wall Street weighs Dragon's swift retaliation

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US stocks were set to come under pressure again on Friday, with investors unnerved by the prospect of a global trade war as China fired its first retaliatory salvo against tariffs of up to $60 billion announced by the Trump administration.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 424.69 points, or 1.77 per cent, to 23,533.2, the S&P 500 lost 55.43 points, or 2.10 per cent, to 2,588.26 after hitting an intraday low that was barely above its 200-day moving average of 2585.22.

In Toronto, the TSX is down nearly 178 points at 15,497 while the FTSE 100 closed down below 7,000 at 6,953 for the first time since December of 2016 as traders still worry about the possibility of an interest rate hike in May, despite the Bank of England's decision to keep rates intact today.

Traders are anxious an escalating trade spat will hurt US businesses, especially those that do a lot of sales overseas.

The Dow Jones industrial average dropped 724.42 points to close at 23,957.89, with Caterpillar, 3M and Boeing as the biggest decliners. The S&P 500 fell 0.45 percent to 2,631.83 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 0.71 percent to 7,115.47.

The Nasdaq composite shed 174.01 points, or 2.4 percent, to 6,992.67.

USA treasury prices also gained as investors stayed risk-averse.

Stock indexes in Europe also fell sharply. "At face value, the tariffs on China would cover less than three per cent of total US goods imports, similar to those on steel and aluminum".

The S&P technology sector was dragged down as well over fears there might be tighter regulation on how these companies use people's data. Chipmaker Micron Technology fell 3.5 percent.

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Wall Street's three major indexes tumbled in late afternoon trading on Friday as investors shied away from risky bets going into the weekend while they braced for a potential US trade war with China. Financials led the market lower, falling 3.7% on the day. And the picture looks just as bad for the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which sank to a four-month low by the Friday close.

Markets have been shaky for several weeks since the president announced a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum.

The tariffs themselves are only equal to about 10 percent of China's annual goods imports to the United States.

China's Commerce Ministry said the country will defend its interests.

Investors were also concerned about the pace of future growth as the Fed on Wednesday raised its benchmark federal-funds rate by a quarter percentage point, to a range between 1.5 per cent and 1.75 per cent, and signaled a quicker pace of future rate hikes. The index ended the year up almost 20 percent, its best annual performance since 2012.

Here's why stocks are down today, and we'll even show you a strategy to protect yourself if things get worse... The 2.9 percent decline was the worst since February 8.

The Nasdaq fell roughy 2.4 percent, while the S&P slid 2.5 percent. The move implies interest rates will not rise as fast as expected, crimping bank profits.

Facebook shares, down 1.4 per cent, continued to weigh on the broader market and the tech sector, the best performing S&P group for this year. "The large bearish pattern remains in place with a downside target near 2,600", writes Intinet's Frank Cappelleri.

Gold edged up $5.90 to $1,327.40 an ounce. Heating oil lost 1 cent to $1.99 a gallon.

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