US stocks fell sharply on Thursday after President Donald Trump said the United States would impose import tariffs on steel and aluminum, adding fears of a tit-for-tat trade war to growing worries about higher interest rates.
As a candidate, Trump campaigned on an "America First" trade policy, and a big fear for investors has been that increasingly nationalistic governments will impose barriers that hurt the global economy and trade, as well as profits for USA exporters.
A "trade war is in no one's interests", said Roberto Azevedo, head of the World Trade Organization. The index is coming off its worst month in two years, when concerns about higher inflation and rates helped trigger a 10 percent drop. Near 1910 GMT, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down just over 2. Eastern time. It was up as much as 0.6 percent and down as much as 1.2 percent in choppy trading earlier.
That drove shares in USA steel producers as much as 12 percent higher but knocked 2 percent or more off heavyweights like Boeing and Caterpillar, who investors anxious would face higher raw material costs and trade barriers elsewhere.
Big exporters like Apple and drugmaker Pfizer, which would suffer if trade tensions picked up, also fell. The Russell 2000 index of small-cap stocks rose 25.78, or 1.7 percent, to 1,533.17. Over the final seven trading days of the month, the Dow did not move fewer than 164 points in either direction. For the month, the Dow lost 4.4%, the S&P 500 fell 3.8%, and the Nasdaq lost 1.5%.
Mr Powell signalled the Fed could potentially lift interest rates by more this year to keep the U.S. economy from overheating, sparking anxiety among share traders.
The disclosure follows a report in the Wall Street Journal that the SEC sent subpoenas to dozens of companies demanding information about initial coin offerings and cryptocurrencies, which aren't bound by the same rigorous rules that govern public offerings of stock.
Dental supplies maker Patterson Companies plunged 22 percent after reporting weak earnings for the latest quarter.
The Dow Jones industrial average was little changed at 25,029. Mainland markets traded slightly higher after recent losses: The Shanghai composite edged up by 0.15%.
Ryan Detrick, senior market strategist at LPL Financial, notes that over the 10- and 20-year periods March and April are the two strongest months of the year. Shares of the company, which sells dental and animal health products, dropped $7.47, or 23.7 percent, to $24.11.
Shares of steelmakers swung wildly amid speculation that the US government would impose tariffs or quotas on steel and aluminum imports. U.S. Steel rose $2.50, or 5.7 percent, to $46.01.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 3 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,710.
In currency markets, the Canadian dollar closed at an average trading value of 77.81 cents USA, down 0.26 of a U.S. cent. London's FTSE 100 was down 0.7% in afternoon trade.