Another increase in trade tensions caused stocks to fall sharply Friday as the US and China exchanged threats. Stocks have changed direction again and again this week as investors tried to get a sense of whether a trade dispute between the two nations will escalate, an outcome that could have major consequences for the global economy. On Friday, the mood was decidedly pessimistic: The Dow Jones industrial average fell 572 points, or 2.3%, to 23,932, per the AP. The S&P 500, which many index funds track, fell 58 points, or 2.2%, to 2,604, while the Nasdaq composite slid 161 points, or 2.3%, to 6,915.
Caterpillar dropped 3.5%, the most in the Dow. Caterpillar and other industrial companies rely heavily on overseas sales and could suffer if commerce is curtailed by rising trade barriers. The administration spent the past few days reassuring investors that it's not rushing into a trade war, and China's government has done the same. But late Thursday, President Trump ordered the US Trade Representative to consider placing tariffs on $100 billion in duties on Chinese imports. China said it would "counterattack with great strength" if that happens.