Stocks – Futures Point to Small Gains; Virus Breeds Uncertainty

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By Peter Nurse – U.S. stocks are set to open marginally higher Monday, rebounding after Friday’s losses which bucked an otherwise strong week. But these gains are likely to be limited as China’s coronavirus outbreak continues to claim victims and cause economic damage.

At 7:00 AM ET (1200 GMT), futures for the traded 2 points, or 0.1%, higher, futures for the up 16 points, or 0.2%, while the contract rose 8 points, or 0.1%.

On Friday, both the S&P 500 cash index and the Nasdaq closed down 0.5%, while the Jones dropped 0.9%. However, despite these losses, the Dow posted its best weekly gain since August last year, the S&P since June, and the Nasdaq had its strongest week since November 2018.

This provides some room for investors to take profits, particularly as the earnings season starts to draw to a close. There are just 68 S&P 500 companies reporting results in the week ahead, with numbers from Restaurant Brands International, Allergan (NYSE:) and Loews (NYSE:) set to capture the market’s attention on Monday.

Additionally, shares in Tesla (NASDAQ:) soared 9% premarket, continuing the stock’s recent volatile run, after the electric car maker reopened its $2 billion Shanghai production facility Monday. Factory restarts across China have been in doubt after the Lunar New Year holiday was extended to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

A large number of China’s workers travelled back to offices and factories around the country, but many workplaces still remained closed, including key Apple (NASDAQ:) supplier Foxconn that had sought official permission to open, while many white-collar workers continued to work from home.

The death toll from the disease has officially overtaken that of the SARS outbreak almost two decades ago, as China reported the total number of deaths at 910, with over 40,000 people affected.

The death of a whistleblower doctor last week and the disappearance of citizen journalists in Wuhan who were reporting on the outbreak have also raised suspicions that the scale of the outbreak may be being understated.

The toll on China’s already-slowing economy has been heavy, with Goldman Sachs (NYSE:) cutting its first quarter GDP target to 4% from 5.6% previously and saying an even deeper hit is possible.

U.S. economic releases are thin on the ground Monday, so focus could be on speeches from Federal Reserve members and . These come ahead of Fed Chair delivering his semi-annual monetary policy testimony on the economy before Senate and House committees in Washington DC on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The Fed chair is expected to reinforce the signal that policy is on hold given that the labor market continues to tighten and private consumption growth remains solid.

Elsewhere, oil headed lower Monday, continuing last week’s losses when the complex posted its fifth weekly loss in a row. Doubts remain over the extent of production cuts from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies, a group known as OPEC+.

AT 07:00 AM ET (1200 GMT), futures traded 0.1% lower at $50.31 and the international benchmark contract fell 0.1% to $54.45.

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