Stocks tumble; emerging markets hit as dollar rises, yuan falls

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Equities around the world took a dive on Wednesday, with emerging market stocks set to confirm a bear market and the dollar hitting a 13-month high, while weakness in China’s yuan rattled investors’ nerves. While fears of a crisis in Turkey still loomed, China was in sharp focus as the yuan CNH=EBS sagged nearly 0.8 percent to 6.9467 per dollar, hitting its weakest level since January 2017 following disappointing economic data earlier this week.  The data stoked speculation whether the People’s Bank of China would intervene with more fiscal stimulus to stem its currency from breaking through the 7-yuan mark. “Today investors are waking up to the idea that the situation in China may be pretty impactful as far as global markets go,” said Emily Roland, head of capital markets research at John Hancock Investments.“With China being the engine of global economic growth, if you start to see their currency weaken significantly because of the slowdown we’re seeing there and you start to see the dollar meaningfully increase, there could become a point where there’s a liquidity issue globally,” Roland added. Turkey’s lira eked out a second day of gains as authorities tightened the screws on foreign investors aiming to short the currency. But the country’s failure to tackle galloping inflation kept investors fearful that Turkey was headed for full-blown crisis and debt defaults. Investors stepped up safe-haven holdings of the U.S. dollar due to worries about China and Europe’s exposure to Turkey, which pushed the euro to its weakest level in over a year. “The dominant theme in financial markets at the moment is the strength of the dollar,” said Sunil Krishnan, Aviva Investors head of multi-asset funds. “We see scope for that move to continue. “One of the big challenges to risk appetite in markets is if the dollar moves continue and put pressure on riskier assets such as emerging market bonds and so on,” he added. MSCI’s emerging equities index .MSCIEF was last down 2 percent from Tuesday, after having fallen more than 20 percent from its January intraday high earlier in the day. Latin American currencies also slid along with commoditie. The CBOE Volatility Index .VIX, Wall Street’s so-called “fear gauge,” jumped to a more than six-week high of 16.86, showing rising demand for protection against a near-term drop in U.S. stocks. The index was last up 2.9 points at 16.21.

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The backdrop to all this is the escalation in global trade tensions, with Beijing lodging a complaint to the World Trade Organization to determine the legality of U.S. tariff and subsidy policies. Turkey has also raised tariffs on some U.S. products “in response to the U.S. administration’s deliberate attacks on our economy”, Vice President Fuat Oktay wrote on Twitter. U.S. crude oil CLcv1 fell 3.36 percent to $64.79 per barrel and Brent LCOcv1 was last at $70.61, down 2.55 percent on the day. Additional reporting by Richard Leong, Saqib Iqbal Ahmed in New York, Shinichi Saoshiro in Tokyo and Marc Jones in London; Editing by Louise Ireland and Dan Grebler