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Stocks - US Futures Lower; Sentiment Slips as Virus Cases Soar

By Peter Nurse

Investing.com - U.S. stocks are set to open lower Thursday, retracing after a series of record highs as the number of people officially recorded as being affected by the coronavirus outbreak in China soared.

At 7:00 AM ET (1200 GMT), futures for the S&P 500 traded 24 points, or 0.7%, lower, futures for the Nasdaq down 75 points, or 0.8%, while the Dow Jones futures contract fell 211 points, or 0.7%.

China's Hubei province, where the Covid-19 virus is believed to have originated, reported 242 new deaths late Wednesday, double the previous day's toll, and confirmed 14,840 new cases. This pushed the national death toll above 1,350 - with almost 60,000 infections in total.

The rise in the number of Hubei cases came as officials adopted a new methodology for counting infections, effectively lowering the bar for classifying new infections.

This dent to sentiment presented a selling opportunity, particularly as Wall Street notched Wednesday a third-straight record close this week. The S&P 500 rose 0.7%, the Nasdaq Composite gained 0.9% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumped 0.9%. U.S. stocks have been having their best month since June last year.

With China in mind, e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE:BABA) reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue, as its core e-commerce and Cloud computing businesses posted steady growth. These results, however, are for the three-month period just before the coronavirus outbreak.

Elsewhere, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) is likely to be in the spotlight after announcing the recall of 15,000 Model X SUVs because of concerns over the potential loss of power steering.

Shares in Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO) will be in focus after offering up a lackluster forecast for third-quarter revenue and profit, while MGM Resorts (NYSE:MGM) scrapped its earnings guidance for 2020 and announced that chief executive James Murren was leaving ahead of schedule.

Inflation numbers lead Thursday’s economic calendar, with the January consumer price index due at 8:30 AM ET (1330 GMT). This is expected to have risen 0.2% last month, the same as it rose in December

At the same time, weekly initial jobless claims figures will also be released, with claims for first-time unemployment benefits for the week seen bouncing up to 210,000 from the unexpectedly low 202,000 seen the week before.

Elsewhere, the oil market fell back Thursday, after the International Energy Agency said late Wednesday that global oil demand will drop this quarter, by 435,000 barrels a day, for the first time in over a decade on the back of the coronavirus damage.

AT 07:00 AM ET (1200 GMT), U.S. crude futures traded 0.4% lower at $50.98 a barrel, after having fallen below $50 to a one-year low last week. The international benchmark Brent contract fell 0.9% to $55.31.

Additionally, gold futures rose 0.4% to $1,577.15 a troy ounce, while EUR/USD traded at $1.0856, its lowest level since May 2017.

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