North American stocks were lower on Wednesday afternoon as investors rushed to safe-haven assets after President Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” warning to North Korea escalated tensions with the nuclear-armed nation.
North Korea said it was considering plans to fire missiles at Guam, a U.S.-held Pacific island, after President Trump’s warning on Tuesday.
Trump followed his warning with a tweet on Wednesday about the strength of the American nuclear arsenal, but expressed hope it would not need to be used.
Safe-haven assets gained following the rising geopolitical tensions. Gold rose as much as 1.2 per cent to a near two-month high, while the Swiss franc was on track to post its biggest single day rise in about two-and-a-half years.
Mounting tensions lifted U.S. defence stocks. Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, General Dynamics and Northrop Grumman were all up, with the Dow Jones U.S. defence index up 1.48 per cent at 409.58. The index hit a life-high of 415.49 earlier.
The CBOE Volatility Index, the most widely followed barometer of expected near-term stock market volatility, was up as much as 12.63 points, its highest in more than a month.
“Geopolitics splashed cold water on the markets,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade.
“There’s uncertainty and caution as investors nervously eye the next foreign policy moves.”
In early afternoon trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 67 points at 22,018 points, the S&P 500 was down 5.6 points at 2,469.
The Nasdaq Composite was down 28.7 at 6,341.
In Toronto, the S&P/TSX composite index was down by 37 points at 15,218 as financial stocks weighed on the market, despite support from a rise in gold stocks.
Trump’s comments sparked a late afternoon selling on Tuesday, with the Dow ending a nine-day streak of closing records.
U.S. trading volume has been low with summer setting in and Congress expected to be in recess until Sept. 5. The S&P hasn’t moved more than 0.5 per cent in one day since July and has fallen more than 1 per cent only twice this year.
“Despite all this, there’s no reason to press the panic button. For now, the North Korea situation bears watching as there’s lots of tough talk, but we’ll see if it escalates,” said Kinahan.
Shares of Walt Disney were down 4.23 per cent, the biggest drag on Dow, as investors doubted whether the company can succeed with its plan to launch its own streaming services rather than rely on Netflix to reach online viewers. Netflix was down 1.8 per cent.
Travel website operator Priceline fell 7.26 per cent, weighing the most on the S&P and the Nasdaq, following a disappointing forecast. Travel-review website operator TripAdvisor was down 2.7 per cent.
Office Depot tumbled 22.4 per cent after the office supplies retailer’s quarterly results came in below estimates.