Futures tied to the S&P 500 rose, suggesting the blue-chip index could open higher. The Stoxx Europe 600 wavered between gains and losses, as gains for shares in oil-and-gas companies offset losses for utility stocks.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell’s comments on the prospects for the economy, when he holds a press conference at 2:30 p.m. ET, will be closely monitored by investors. His views on the tools and options available to the Fed if the situation deteriorates further will be of particular interest as the coronavirus pandemic triggers a pronounced contraction in global output. U.S. officials have largely ruled out experimenting with negative interest rates.
“They’ve done everything they feel they need to do right now,” said Jonas Goltermann, senior markets economist at Capital Economics. “The communication challenge is going to be conveying that they will do more if needed, but that doesn’t mean they have to do more right now.”
After cutting interest rates to near zero in mid-March, the Fed began a torrent of bond-buying programs to stabilize markets, while offering support to other corners of the market to bolster the availability of credit. These measures have helped stocks stage a rapid recovery in the face of a deep recession.
Investors will seek to learn how long the Fed expects the economic downturn to last, said Eddy Loh, senior investment strategist at Maybank Group Wealth Management.
The U.S. is also scheduled to release preliminary data on gross domestic product, a broad measure of the goods and services produced in an economy, at 8:30 a.m. The figures are expected to show the economy contracted in the first quarter. Second-quarter data, which won’t be released until July, are forecast to show a steeper decline.
Also Wednesday, a series of blue-chip companies are due to publish earnings for the first three months of the year, starting at about 6 a.m. General Electric, Spotify Technology, Boeing, Mastercard and Hasbro are due to release their reports before the market opens. Facebook, Microsoft, Qualcomm and Tesla will report after the close of trading.
Among European stocks, International Consolidated Airlines Group, owner of British Airways, fell almost 4% after starting the process of laying off more than a quarter of the carrier’s staff.
Wirecard fell 6.4%, extending a rout that began Tuesday, after a prominent activist investor called for the German financial-technology company to fire its chief executive.
Oil markets remained volatile. Brent crude, the global gauge of oil prices, climbed 3.7% to $23.57a barrel. Futures contracts that will deliver West Texas Intermediate in July, the benchmark for U.S. crude markets, rose 4% to $18.30 a barrel. A contract that will deliver crude in June jumped 14% to $14.04 a barrel. Investors have sold the June contract in recent days to avoid taking hold of physical barrels of oil at a time when storage space is running out.
Asian stock benchmarks broadly rose. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 closed 1.5% higher, while the Shanghai Composite Index inched up 0.4%. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index ticked up almost 0.3%. Japan’s market was closed for a public holiday.
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