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Stocks fall on China trade, 'Marmageddon' retail row

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China said exports fell more than predicted in September, disappointing markets

China said exports fell more than predicted in September, disappointing markets (AFP Photo/)

World stocks mostly fell Thursday following weak Chinese trade data, while a pricing spat between British supermarket chain Tesco and Dutch consumer-products giant Unilever underlined new post-Brexit tensions over imports.

China said exports plunged more than predicted last month, disappointing markets after a recent upbeat reading on factory activity. Imports also fell, raising worries about consumer confidence.

"There remain obvious obstacles facing China's foreign trade development," Customs spokesman Huang Songping told reporters in Beijing. "World growth remains sluggish and global trade lacks effective support."

Global stocks reacted badly to new signs of trouble in the world's second biggest economy, with Hong Kong falling 1.6 percent and Tokyo 0.4 percent.

Paris and Frankfurt both lost about one percent, while London shed 0.7 percent, due in part to weakness in mining stocks tied to demand in China.

British-listed Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Anglo American, along with US metals producer Freeport-McMoRan, all lost more than four percent.

The S&P 500 in the US finished down 0.3 percent.

US stocks were earlier down more than one percent, but pared their losses as the dollar retreated and oil prices rose, analysts said.

Wall Street was girding for a big day of earnings Friday, with banks JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo all declining ahead of earnings reports.

Of the three, Wells Fargo had the biggest drop, losing 1.3 percent as embattled chief executive John Stumpf resigned following a scandal surrounding bogus accounts. He will be replaced by president Tim Sloan.

- 'Marmageddon' in London -

A seemingly Brexit-fuelled spat between British chain Tesco and Dutch giant Unilever erupted Thursday, pushing shares in both companies sharply lower.

Unilever, which makes popular household brands like PG Tips tea bags, Ben & Jerry's ice cream, and Hellmann's mayonnaise, wanted major price hikes due to the Brexit-driven slump in sterling -- which it said has ramped up the cost of imported materials.

Unilever also makes the popular yeast extract spread Marmite, prompting the controversy to be dubbed by some "Marmageddon," and spawning a #Marmitegate hashtag on Twitter.

Tesco -- Britain's biggest retailer which faces intense price competition in its domestic supermarket sector -- has refused to lift prices.

That prompted Unilever to halt deliveries to the company, sparking a shortage of its branded goods on the supermarket's shelves.

Tesco stock was three percent down at the close, while Unilever London-listed shares dropped by 3.4 percent.

Unilever announced after the market closed that the dispute had been resolved.

"We have been working together closely to reach this resolution and ensure our much-loved brands are once again fully available," Unilever said.

"For all those that missed us, thanks for all the love."

- Key figures around 2100 GMT -

New York - DOW: DOWN 0.3 percent at 18,098.94 (close)

New York - S&P 500: DOWN 0.3 percent at 2,132.55 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 0.5 percent at 5,213.33 (close)

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.7 percent at 6,977.74 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 1.0 percent at 10,414.07 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 1.1 percent at 4,405.17 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 1.2 percent at 2,973.27

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.4 percent at 16,774.24 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 1.6 percent at 23,031.30 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.1 percent at 3,061.35 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2253 from $1.2210

Euro/pound: UP at 90.25 pence from 90.15 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1056 from $1.1007

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.66 yen from 104.23 yen

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 26 cents at $50.44 per barrel

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 22 cents at $52.03