Stock futures up slightly, but trade worries linger

(Reuters) – U.S. stocks were set to open a tad higher on Thursday, as battered technology stocks attempted a recovery, but worries that the Trump administration would make good on its plan for fresh China tariffs weighed on the mood.

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., August 31, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

Beijing has warned of retaliation if Washington implements any new tariff measures. Recent reports have said U.S. President Donald Trump is ready to move ahead with tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports after a public comment period ends on Thursday.

Investors will also focus on the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiations, which Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said has continued to be “constructive”.

Trade concerns have been a drag on U.S. stocks since early this year as investors worry that a global trade war could dent business investment and growth.

Craig Erlam, a senior market analyst at Oanda, wrote in a research note the latest move on China “would represent a significant ramping up of the trade war and show the U.S. electorate ahead of the mid-terms that he (Trump) will not shy away from his strategy, regardless of the warnings against doing so.”

At 8:42 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were up 26 points, or 0.1 percent. S&P 500 e-minis were up 1.25 points, or 0.04 percent and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 4 points, or 0.05 percent.

The muted move in equity futures follows a stormy session for technology stocks on Wednesday, when the Nasdaq Composite index dropped over 1 percent on worries over stricter regulation on companies such as Twitter, Facebook and Alphabet.

Shares of these companies were up between 0.14 percent and 0.43 percent in premarket trading after falling sharply on Wednesday.

“The tech hearings are over, so I would expect some of the beaten up tech names to recover a bit,” Ken Polcari, director of the NYSE floor division at O’ Neil Securities in New York, wrote in a morning note.

Netflix rose 2.2 percent after RBC raised price target on the stock and a survey by the brokerage showed higher penetration levels in the United States and United Kingdom.

Chevron and ConocoPhillips were down 0.6 percent and 0.92 percent, after BofA Merrill downgraded the oil companies to “neutral” from “buy”.

Navistar International rose 6.4 percent after the truck and engine maker reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit.

The ADP National Employment Report showed private employers in the U.S. hired 163,000 workers in August, lower than an estimated 190,000 rise, according to a Reuters consensus.

The numbers come ahead of the more comprehensive non-farm payrolls report on Friday.

Among influential speakers, New York Federal Reserve President John C. Williams will participate in a fireside chat at 10:00 a.m. ET focused on the regional and national economy and the New York Fed’s outreach efforts.

Reporting by Sruthi Shankar in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta

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