Stock futures open slightly lower as US-China tensions mount

Stock futures opened slightly lower Thursday evening as ongoing signs of the economic damage from the coronavirus pandemic compounded with fears of rising U.S.-China tensions. A slew of quarterly corporate earnings results came in mixed.

Concerns that relations with China could become increasingly strained flared up Thursday, with U.S. senators introducing a bipartisan bill that would sanction Chinese officials and organizations who enforce newly introduced security measures in Hong Kong. This came a day after the Senate passed a bill that would make it more difficult for Chinese companies to list on U.S. stock exchanges. All three major indices ended the regular session lower.

Earlier Thursday, the U.S. Labor Department’s weekly report on initial jobless claims showed another 2.438 million individuals filed for unemployment insurance claims last week, bringing the nine-week total for new claims to more than 38 million. Continuing jobless claims hit a fresh record high of more than 25 million, as of the week ended May 8.

“The long fat tail in the profile of job losses during this pandemic suggests that layoffs are no longer just because of the economy shutting down and a backlog of claims being processed,” Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities, said in a note.

“Instead, the fact that we still lost 2.4mn [million] jobs last week after nine weeks of COVID-19 suggests that what is going on is a more permanent reallocation of workers away from jobs in industries that require a high degree of face-to-face and close physical interaction,” he added.

Amid economic data that has remained historically weak, Federal Reserve officials have dimmed hopes of a speedy, V-shaped recovery – an outcome the stock market, up 32% from its March 23 low, has appeared more unwilling to bet against so far.

In commentary Thursday, New York Fed President John Williams said he forecasted a “a couple very difficult months ahead of us,” and Fed Vice Chairman Richard Clarida also said he believed the “net effect” of the pandemic would be “for aggregate demand to decline relative to aggregate supply, both in the near term and over the medium term.”

After market close, chip-maker Nvidia (NVDA) reported sales for the first quarter that grew 39% over last year and profit that beat expectations, and its guidance for the current quarter topped estimates. Ross Stores (ROST), on the other hand, reported quarterly sales that halved over last year and swung to a loss amid widespread store closures during the pandemic.

Companies including Alibaba (BABA), Deere (DE) and Foot Locker (FL) are poised to report quarterly results before market open Friday. No major domestic economic data reports are slated for release.

6:04 p.m. ET Thursday: Stock futures open slightly lower

Here were the main moves at the start of the overnight session for U.S. equity futures, as of 6:03 p.m. ET:

  • S&P 500 futures (ES=F): 2,935.5, down 1.5 points (-0.05%)

  • Dow futures (YM=F): 24,369, down 7 points (-0.03%)

  • Nasdaq futures (NQ=F): 9,356.00, flat

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MAY 21: A Fresh Direct worker in protective face mask and gloves handles deliveries on May 21, 2020 in New York City. COVID-19 has spread to most countries around the world, claiming over 332,000 lives with infections of over 5.1 million people. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)

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