Dow Futures Tumble as U.S. Coronavirus Cases Increase, California Declares State of Emergency

California Governor Gavin Newsom declares a state of emergency after the death of a Sacramento woman linked to the coronavirus, underscoring the risk of accelerating infections in the world's biggest economy.

The Thursday Market Minute

  • Global stocks mixed, with bets on near-term interest rate cuts driving gains in Europe and Asia and coronavirus headlines holding back stocks on Wall Street.
  • California declares a state of emergency following the death of an elderly woman near Sacramento, as domestic cases rise to 160 across 17 states and fatalities reach 11.
  • Global COVID-19 infections rise past 95,000 across 70 countries, with ongoing acceleration in Italy, Iran and South Korea.
  • Global central bank interest rates hit an all-time low following yesterday's move by the Bank of Canada, while rate markets continue to price in more easing.
  • IMF cuts its global growth forecast, cautioning that the COVID-19 impact on the world economy is "still difficult to predict".
  • U.S. equity futures suggest a sharp opening bell declines on Wall Street Thursday, although market volatility gauges remain elevated, ahead of weekly employment data at 8:30 am Eastern time.

Wall Street futures were under renewed pressure in overnight trading Thursday as investors grappled with figures showing a rise in U.S. coronavirus infections and the declaration of a medical state of emergency in the state of California.

The number of U.S. coronavirus cares was estimated at 160 Thursday, according to Johns Hopkins University's COVID-19 tracking website, following the first death outside of Washington state last night - an elderly woman from the Sacramento area who had suffered underlying health issues. 

"The State of California is deploying every level of government to help identify cases and slow the spread of this coronavirus," Governor Gavin Newsom said in a statement late Wednesday.

Globally, COVID-19 cases have risen past 95,000, with infections accelerating notably in Italy, Iran and South Korea, and the death toll has been estimated at just under 3,300.

The broader economic impact, meanwhile, continues to be assessed, with the International Monetary Fund trimming its global growth forecast by 0.4 percentage points Wednesday, to 2.9%, a level that would be the slowest pace of advance since 2009.

IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva also cautioned that the COVID-19 related pullback could intensify in the coming months, but added that "how far it will fall and how long the impact will be is still difficult to predict".

U.S. equity futures, meanwhile, remain highly sensitive to both coronavirus headlines and broader movements in the bond market, where benchmark 10-year Treasury note yields slipped to 0.939% following Tuesday's emergency rate cut from the Federal Reserve.

Contracts tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which rallied more than 1,100 points last night, are priced for a 725 point opening bell decline while those linked to the S&P 500 suggest an 81 point pullback for the broader benchmark.

Bond and rate movements are likely to continue to impact world stocks, with traders now pricing in a 90% chance of a 10 basis point cut in the European Central Bank's overnight deposit rate, a move that would pull even more deeply into negative territory. 

In fact, following yesterday's 50 basis point rate cut from the Bank of Canada, official global interest rates reached an all-time low of just over 3%, based on the GDP-weighted average of 38 central banks around the world.

Even with those low levels, investors are primed for more cuts from the Fed, with CME Group futures suggesting a 75% chance of a rate cut when the central bank meets later this month in Washington, and a 74% chance of a follow-up reduction in April.

European shares were given an early Thursday boost from rate bets, but that faded quickly as the Stoxx 600 slumped 1.8% by mid-day trading while Britain's FTSE 100 fell 1.9% by lunchtime in London trading as U.S. stock futures extended declines.

Overnight in Asia, hopes for policy support -- in the form of lowest interest rates -- from the People's Bank of China helped domestic stocks to solid overnight gains, lifting the region-wide MSCI ex-Japan index by 1.3% heading into the close of trading.

Japan's Nikkei 225, meanwhile, bumped 1.09% higher on the session, partly in response to more detailed signaling of near-term policy support, which could include ETF and equity purchases, from the Bank of Japan.

Away from equities, global oil prices failed to extend gains for third consecutive session Thursday ahead of the start of OPEC's two-day meeting in Vienna, where officials will attempt to broker a deal between cartel members, as well as non-member allies such as Russia, that would both extend and deepen their agreed production cuts by another 1 million to 1.1. million barrels per day.

Brent crude futures contracts for May delivery, the global benchmark, were last see seen 22 cents lower from their Wednesday close in New York and trading at $50.91 per barrel, while WTI contracts for April were seen 23 cents lower at $46.55 per barrel.

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