Market Snapshot: Stock-index futures struggle for direction as investors assess coronavirus fallout

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Stock-index futures saw early gains dry up to trade near unchanged as investors dealt with uncertainty over the spread of COVID-19 in China.

Investors were also digesting data on January retail sales as corporate earnings season moves into the home stretch.

What are major indexes doing?

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average YMH20, -0.02%  were off 11 points, or less than 0.1%, at 29,421, while S&P 500 futures ESH20, +0.05%  rose 1.35 points, or less than 0.1%, to 3,378.75. Nasdaq-100 futures NQH20, +0.11%  were up 11 points, or 0.1%, at 9,624.

Stocks lost ground Thursday, pulling back from records. The Dow DJIA, -0.43%  fell 128.11 points or 0.4%, to end at 29,423.31, while the S&P 500 SPX, -0.16%  gave up 5.51 points, or 0.2%, to finish at 3,373.94. The Nasdaq Composite COMP, -0.14% closed at 9,711.97, down 13.99 points, or 0.1%.

What’s driving the market?

China on Friday said 121 more people had died from COVID-19, the disease caused by a coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan in late 2019, over the previous 24 hours, bringing the total to 1,381. The country’s National Health Commission reported 5,090 new confirmed cases in mainland China, bringing the total to 63,851. The number of new cases jumped sharply on Thursday after a change in the government’s counting method.

Analysts said the changes to the methodology were fueling doubts about the accuracy of China’s figures.

“Most traders still lack visibility on the way the virus is spreading in China, especially after a new testing method was introduced this week,” said Pierre Veyret, technical analyst at ActivTrades, in a note. “The recent data from Beijing show lower new daily cases but still more than before the new testing process was implemented, which provides investors with a blurry picture of the situation.”

Friday also brings a heavy economic calendar. Retail sales rose 0.3% in January, the government said, matching the MarketWatch consensus forecast. Import prices rose 0.2% during the month, according to a separate government report, and have gained 0.3% in the past 12 months.

Separately, industrial production and capacity utilization data for January are set for release at 9:15 a.m. Eastern. A February consumer-sentiment index is also due at 10 a.m. Eastern, with December business inventories slated for the same time.

Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank President Loretta Mester is scheduled to speak at 11:45 a.m. Eastern.

Which companies are in focus?
What are other markets doing?

Oil continued to power higher. The price of a barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude for March delivery CLH20, +0.97% was 69 cents, or 1.3%, higher on the New York Mercantile Exchange. WTI has gained 3.5% in the week to date.

Gold for April delivery GCJ20, +0.28% rose less than 0.1% to 1,579.50.

The U.S. dollar DXY, -0.03% was 0.1% higher against a basket of rival currencies.

In Europe, the Stoxx Europe SXXP, -0.03% was 0.2% higher, near 432, and the FTSE FTSE, -0.37%  was trading about 1.1% lower, near 7,452.

In Asia overnight, the China CSI 300 000300, +0.70%  rose 0.7% to close at 3,987.73, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, +0.38%  ticked up 0.4% to 2,917.01, and the Hang Seng Index HSI, +0.31% closed 0.3% higher, at 27,815.60. The NIKKEI 225 NIK, -0.59% lost 0.6% to 23,687.59.

The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y, -1.73% caught a bid, with the yield shedding 4 basis points to 1.58%. Bond yields fall when prices rise.

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