March 22, 2018 / 1:16 PM / 9 months ago

US STOCKS-Futures sharply lower as trade war fears, tech woes persist

* Technology stocks pressured again; Facebook drops 2.2 pct

* Trump expected to impose tariffs on China

* Oil prices drop on profit-booking after recent rally

* Futures down: Dow 243 pts, S&P 25 pts, Nasdaq 89.5 pts (Adds comment, details, updates prices)

By Sruthi Shankar

March 22 (Reuters) - U.S. stock futures were sharply lower on Thursday, with technology stocks dropping on fears of increased regulations in the wake of Facebook Inc's data privacy issues, while the Trump administration's move to impose import tariffs on China stoked fears of a global trade war.

Nasdaq futures fell the most and a clutch of big tech names were all in the red in pre-market trading, led by a 2.2 percent slide in Facebook shares. Each of the 86 stocks on the Nasdaq 100 trading ahead of the bell were lower.

The downbeat sentiment also follows the Federal Reserve's widely expected decision on Wednesday to raise U.S. interest rates by 25 basis points. The U.S. central bank forecast at least two more hikes for 2018, but nearly half of the policy makers projected three more this year and the pace of rate increases is seen quickening in the next two years.

In its first policy meeting under new Fed chief Jerome Powell, the central bank indicated that inflation should finally move higher after years below its 2 percent target and that the economy had recently gained momentum.

Stocks initially rose on the announcement, but ended slightly lower on Wednesday as attention turned to the United States' plan to impose tariffs on China, which many fear can escalate into a trade war.

President Donald Trump plans to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, possibly targeting the country's high-technology sector and restricting Chinese investments in the United States. The White House said Trump would sign a presidential memorandum "targeting China's economic aggression" at 12:30 p.m. ET on Thursday.

China blamed U.S. export restrictions for its record trade surplus with the United States, but expressed hope that a solution can be found to settle their trade issues.

"U.S. futures are coming under pressure once again as investors continue to display an anxiety about the path of interest rates against a backdrop of escalating trade conflicts," said Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at Oanda.

"Trump seems intent on starting trade wars, most notably with China, which could trigger a wave of protectionism and drive up prices in the U.S. and likely weigh on the growth momentum."

At 8:39 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 243 points and S&P 500 e-minis fell 25 points. Nasdaq 100 e-minis dropped 89.5 points or 1.10 percent.

Concern about a trade war between the world's two largest economies also put commodity markets on guard.

Oil prices fell as investors booked profits after this week's rally, which also bolstered the stock markets, but losses were limited by the ongoing efforts of OPEC and its allies to curb supplies.

Tech stocks remained a weak spot after Facebook's data breach issue raised fears that any failure by big tech firms to protect personal data could deter advertisers and users and invite tougher regulation.

Other than Facebook, social media stocks Snap and Twitter were down by more than 1 percent. The S&P 500 tech sector index has fallen 2.7 percent so far this week compared with a drop of less than 1.5 percent for the wider S&P 500. Facebook is down nearly 9 percent since Friday. (Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Dan Burns and Savio D'Souza)

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