Dow futures sag amid earnings deluge and China’s efforts to contain viral outbreak

Futures for the three main U.S. stock benchmarks early Thursday are trading lower as investors parse earnings from a pair of Dow components and an update on monetary policy from Europe’s central bank, while eyeing China’s struggles to contain a potential viral outbreak.

Dow Jones Industrial Average futures YMH20, -0.25% were off 20 points, or less than 0.1%, at 29,119, those for the S&P 500 index ESH20, -0.16% were off less than a point at 3,319, while Nasdaq-100 futures NQH20, -0.06% edged up 5.25 points, or 0.1%, at 9,201.

On Wednesday, the Dow DJIA, -0.03% slipped 9.77 points, or 0.03%, to 29,186.27, while the S&P 500 index SPX, +0.03% closed up 0.96 points or 0.03% at 3,321.75. The Nasdaq Composite IndexCOMP, +0.14% was up 12.96 points or 0.14% at 9,383.77.

Reports on U.S. quarterly earnings poured in Thursday with investors eager to glean more news about the health of the domestic economy in the midst of a historic run-up in the stock market. However, Wall Street was keeping one eye on an Asian flu that has gripped Chinese markets and threatens to hurt an already-sluggish economy, with a potential to harm global economic growth.

Worries about the coronavirus accelerated somewhat after Beijing locked down additional cities in an effort to contain the spread of the disease, which is being compared with a deadly outbreak of the severe acute respiratory syndrome epidemic in 2002-03 that killed about 800 people.

Chinese officials have so far locked down Huanggang, a city of 7.5 million people,while a smaller city Ezhou, with population of million, said it also would restrict travel, the Wall Street Journal reported. The lock downs follow reports earlier that officials in Wuhan, a city of 11 million people and the origin of the virus, had instituted travel restrictions.

Read: What the 2003 SARS epidemic tells us about the potential impact of China’s coronavirus on oil and metals

“China’s lockdown news over the virus scare is weighing on the global markets,” wrote Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Spartan Capital Securities, in a daily research note.

Reports on earnings from the likes of Dow components Procter & GamblePG, +0.18% and Travelers Cos. Inc. TRV, +0.31% will help to guide investors’ mood beyond the Asian influenza. Fellow Dow constituent Intel Corp. INTC, +3.60%, will report after the close of trade Thursday.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank concluded a monetary policy meeting on Thursday by holding interest rates steady, but investors will be watching for signs that President Christine Lagarde will seek to adjust stimulative policies in the future — amid tepid inflation and economic growth — during an 8:30 a.m. Eastern Time press conference.

On the economic front, investors are awaiting a report on U.S. jobless claims due at 8:30 a.m. and an update on the size of the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet.

Shares of P&G were sliding more than 2% in premarket trading Thursday, after the consumer-products company reported a fiscal second-quarter profit that beat expectations but revenue that rose less than forecast.

Shares of Comcast Corp. CMCSA, +0.30% are up 1% in premarket trading after the media giant topped revenue and earnings estimates for the fourth quarter.

American Airlines Group Inc. AAL, +0.44% reported fourth-quarter profit and load factor that rose better than Wall Street had expected, while revenue met forecasts. The company’s stock fell 0.6% before the start of trade Thursday.

Vans parent VF Corp. shares VFC, -0.06% fell 1.7% in premarket trade Thursday, after the company posted weaker-than-expected sales for the third quarter.

Shares of PayPal Holdings Inc. PYPL, -0.56% are up 2.1% in premarket trading Thursday after the company announced a partnership with China’s UnionPay International.

JetBlue Airways Corp.’s JBLU, +3.91% stock rose 1.5% in premarket trade Thursday, after the airline topped earnings estimates for the fourth quarter.

Shares of Travelers Companies Inc. TRV, +0.31% slumped 2.0% in premarket trading Thursday, after the insurer reported profit and revenue that topped expectations but net premiums written that came up a bit shy.

Shares of Southwest Airlines Co. LUV, -0.11% sank 1.8% in premarket trading Thursday after the air carrier reported a fourth-quarter profit and load factor that missed expectations, while revenue rose a little above forecasts. Chief Executive Gary Kelly said operational performance in 2019 was reduced by an estimated $828 million due to the grounding of Boeing Co.’s BA, -1.39% 737 MAX planes.

Kimberly-Clark Corp. KMB, -0.14% reported fourth-quarter earnings and sales that slightly beat expectations Thursday morning, while raising its dividend. The consumer-products company’s stock fell 0.1% before the start of trade.

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