“Given the rearrangement that he has made to his cabinet … it’s being read as a lot more protectionist now than it was two weeks ago.”
Trump has already imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports as well as solar panels and washing machines, sparking threats of retaliation from some trade partners.
Concerns about a trade war have also been fanned by uncertainty in the White House after the exit of Gary Cohn, a strong free trade proponent and sacking of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a moderate, on Tuesday.
At 12:38 p.m. ET, the Dow was down 225.29 points, or 0.9 percent at 24,781.74 and the S&P 500 fell 0.32 percent at 2,756.56.
The Nasdaq Composite was up 0.01 percent at 7,511.56, with a bump in technology stocks helping the index.
Also weighing on sentiment was data that showed U.S. retail sales fell for a third straight month in February, pointing to a slowdown in economic growth in the first quarter.
But the data helped cool concerns of the Federal Reserve raising interest rates at a faster pace in 2018.
Financial stocks fell 0.7 percent, tracking a decline in U.S. bond yields. [US/]
Among stocks, Signet Jewelers fell more than 18 percent after the company gave a disappointing full-year earnings forecast.
Qualcomm fell about 2 percent after Broadcom formally withdrew its bid. Broadcom shares dipped 0.9 percent.
Among gainers, Ford rose 3.5 percent after Morgan Stanley double-upgraded the stock to “overweight” and raised its earnings estimate on the automaker.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers on the NYSE by 1,585 to 1,215. On the Nasdaq, 1,661 issues fell and 1,148 advanced.
(Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Arun Koyyur)