MARKET SNAPSHOT: U.S. Stock Futures Tilt Lower, With ECB And Hurricane Irma Keeping Investors Cautious

By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

A trio of Fed speakers are on deck Thursday as well

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U.S. stocks looked poised to pull back from the prior day's gains Thursday, as investors tracked the impact of Hurricane Irma and waited to find out whether the European Central Bank is ready to wind down its bond buying.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 41 points, or 0.2%, to 21,771, while those for the S&P 500 index fell 4.25 points, or 0.2%, to 2,461.25. Futures for the Nasdaq-100 index were down 0.25 point at 5,854.75.

The major U.S. benchmarks closed higher on Wednesday, (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stock-futures-kept-in-check-by-worries-over-north-korea-hurricane-irma-2017-09-06) after congressional leaders and President Donald Trump agreed to extend the debt-limit deadline and fund the government through mid-December. The deal warmed hopes for more bipartisan deals that would allow the Trump administration to move forward with its promised economic reforms.

First Take:Trump's deal with 'Chuck and Nancy' may improve chances for his legislative agenda (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/debt-ceiling-deal-may-slightly-improve-chances-for-trump-agenda-2017-09-06)

However, on Thursday attention returned to Category 5 Hurricane Irma that wrecked destruction (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/death-toll-rises-to-8-as-hurricane-irma-barrels-through-caribbean-heads-for-florida-2017-09-07) on a string of Caribbean Islands as it barreled toward the Florida coast. The weather system -- the worst ever recorded in the Atlantic Basin -- is expected to hit the Miami area and the Florida Keys on Sunday, sparking a mandatory evacuation of the southern, coastal parts of the state.

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At least eight people have died on Barbuda, Saint Martin and Anguilla, according to media reports.

Irma comes just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, where damages are estimated by AccuWeather to be up to $190 billion (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/hurricane-harvey-could-cost-190-billion-be-worst-ever-us-natural-disaster-says-accuweather-2017-08-31).

Several airlines and cruise operators were forced to cancel flights and sailings, sending shares of some of the companies lower on Thursday in premarket trading. Shares of American Airlines Group Inc. (AAL) dropped 3.5% ahead of the bell, while Carnival Corp. (CCL) lost 0.4%.

ECB in focus: Additionally, traders were waiting for the ECB to announce its latest rate decision and its thoughts on the future of its quantitative easing. Its current bond-buying program of EUR60 billion in purchases a month is scheduled to close at the end of 2017. But the central bank is widely expected to extend the program, but possibly at a slower pace of purchases.

The big question is whether the recent euro rally is putting the ECB's tapering plans on hold, for fear any premature tightening of monetary policy would damage the eurozone's economic recovery.

Read: Here's how the ECB got 'stuck in the euro trap' on its way to winding down QE (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/heres-how-the-ecb-got-stuck-in-the-euro-trapon-its-way-to-winding-down-qe-2017-09-05)

"The ECB is widely expected to begin tapering its asset purchase program in the coming months, but it is possible we could get some signals as early as today. Expectations of definitive plans for tapering being announced today have reduced in recent weeks, with the strength of the euro being a primary concern now," said Richard Perry, market analyst at Hantec Markets, in a note.

The rate decision is scheduled for release at 1:45 p.m. Frankfurt time, or 7:45 a.m. Eastern Time, followed by ECB President Draghi's press conference at 8:30 a.m. Eastern.

The euro rose to $1.1972 ahead of the announcement, up from $1.1917 late Wednesday in New York. That helped push the ICE Dollar Index down 0.4% to 91.961.

European stocks (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/european-stocks-hold-steady-in-runup-to-ecb-update-2017-09-07)were mostly higher, too.

Economic news: In the U.S., an update on weekly jobless claims is due at 8:30 a.m. Eastern. Reports on productivity and unit labor costs for the second quarter are expected at the same time.

Among Federal Reserve speakers, Cleveland Fed President Loretta Mester is scheduled to address the economic outlook and monetary policy at the Economic Club of Pittsburgh, Pa. at 12:15 p.m. Eastern.

New York Fed President William Dudley will speak at New York University at 7 p.m. Eastern. Later, Kansas City Fed President Esther George will discuss the U.S. economic outlook at the Omaha Economic Forum in Omaha, Neb. at 8:15 p.m. Eastern.

See: MarketWatch's economic calendar (http://www.marketwatch.com/economy-politics/calendars/economic)

On Wednesday, Fed Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer said Wednesday that he'll resign from the central bank next month.

Read:Fed's departing Fischer remembered as 'stalwart' amidst central bank turmoil (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/teacher-to-bernanke-and-draghi-fischer-remembered-as-giant-in-field-2017-09-06)

Stock movers: Shares of RH(RH) soared 34% ahead of the bell. Late Wednesday, the upscale retailer formerly known as Restoration Hardware reported earnings that topped Wall Street estimates (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/rh-shares-soar-30-on-earnings-beat-raised-guidance-2017-09-06).

Facebook Inc.(FB) was also in focus after the company late Wednesday said it had traced ad sales totaling $100,000 from Russian accounts (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/facebook-links-thousands-of-political-ads-to-russian-troll-farm-2017-09-06), some of which are likely linked to a troll farm in St. Petersburg called the Internet Research Agency.

Other markets:Asian markets closed mixed (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/south-korea-leads-gains-in-asia-as-markets-rebound-2017-09-06), with South Korean and stocks ending higher, but Chinese and Hong Kong lower.

Oil was slightly lower, while gold prices advanced.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 07, 2017 06:55 ET (10:55 GMT)