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Stock futures open lower on virus fallout concerns

Stock futures opened lower Sunday evening, as concerns that companies would see lasting damage in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic spooked market participants

Stock futures opened lower Sunday evening, as mounting concerns that companies would see lasting damage in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic spooked market participants.

Famed investor Warren Buffett said during Berkshire Hathaway’s annual shareholder meeting Saturday that his company exited its stakes in four of the largest U.S. air carriers American (AAL), United (UAL), Delta (DAL) and Southwest (LUV) due to the coronavirus outbreak. Buffett noted “the world changed for airlines” as the pandemic overtook the world and halted nearly all global travel. Berkshire’s stake had totalled at least $4 billion in these airlines late last year.

Meanwhile, updates on the status of the outbreak across the country continued to trickle in. New York state, the US epicentre of the virus, extended a decline in new virus-related deaths following an early-April peak. Sunday’s latest reported daily death toll totalled 280, versus the 299 reported a day earlier. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, however, warned against taking “false comfort” in these declining numbers and getting complacent about social distancing, especially as the weather begins to warm and citizens become anxious to gather outside.

Cuomo has spoken of reopening parts of the state less hard hit by the virus after May 15, and other parts of the country have already begun opening certain businesses and public spaces, with some restrictions. However, many remained concerned that stay-in-place orders should be kept in place longer to prevent a resurgence in cases.

The reopening of economies has prompted concerns about a second wave of infections and potential double dip in the economy. We readily admit that many unknowns concerning the virus remain, but we do expect additional waves of infections to occur, Morgan Stanley chief economist Chetan Ahya wrote in a note Sunday. However, we take comfort that the phased reopening, the scaling up of public health authorities’ ability to test and trace on a meaningful level, the development of medical solutions to treat and prevent the disease and the awareness of the population at large mean we have a much better chance to reduce the size and scope of future outbreaks.

In a more positive update on the virus front, Gilead Sciences is preparing to get its antiviral drug remdesivir out to patients starting this week, Gilead CEO Daniel O’Day told CBS in a Sunday interview. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration granted remdesivir emergency use authorization to treat the coronavirus as of Friday.

A steady drumbeat of corporate earnings results will also continue this week, providing more indications of how the pandemic has impacted companies and forced them to rethink their outlooks for the current and coming quarters.

So far, though, investors have mostly forgiven dismal first-quarter results, with coronavirus-related damage now well understood and expected.

Companies comprising about 77% of the S&P 500’s market capitalization have reported results to date. One-fifth have missed consensus estimates by at least one standard deviation – the highest rate since the fourth quarter of 2008, according to a Goldman Sachs analysis. Still, firms missing expectations have been punished with an average of just 0.89% of share price underperformance the day after reporting, or the least since the beginning of 2010.

This trading pattern confirms our expectation that investors would largely look through 1Q results, the analysts wrote in the note.

Later in the week, market participants will receive another batch of corporate earnings results from companies including Disney (DIS), Beyond Meat (BYND), General Motors (GM), CVS (CVS), Lyft (LYFT) and Uber (UBER). Economic data reports slated for release include the April jobs report, which is expected to show deeper labour market misery as social distancing measures broadened out and put more individuals out of work.

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