MARKET SNAPSHOT: Wall Street Stocks Set For Losses As 'life-threatening' Irma Aims For Florida

By Sara Sjolin, MarketWatch Features Dow Jones Newswires

Fears of potential North Korean missile launch spook investors, too

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U.S. stocks were set for a downbeat open on Friday, as investors erred on the side of caution, bracing for a potential missile launch in North Korea and for Hurricane Irma to hit the Florida coast at the weekend.

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 70 points, or 0.3%, to 21,700, while those for the S&P 500 index dropped 6.70 points, or 0.3%, to 2,458. Futures for the Nasdaq-100 index were down 16.25 points, or 0.3%, at 5,961.25.

"It's no surprise to see a waning of risk appetite into a weekend that looks likely to see another hurricane hit the U.S. Especially with the continued geopolitical threat from North Korea and after overnight trade data from China (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/china-exports-up-but-strong-yuan-a-drag-2017-09-08) was rather mixed, begging questions about global growth," said Mike van Dulken, analyst at Accendo Markets.

The dollar continued its descent Friday, with the ICE Dollar Index falling 0.5% to 91.249, trading around its lowest level in more than two-and-a-half years.

For the week, all three major benchmarks were set for losses, with the Dow average down 0.9%, the S&P 500 index off 0.5% and the Nasdaq Composite Index 0.6% lower as of Thursday's close. The S&P and Dow ended slightly lower on Thursday (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/us-stock-futures-tilt-lower-with-ecb-and-hurricane-irma-keeping-investors-cautious-2017-09-07), while the tech-heavy Nasdaq eked out a slight gain.

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The weakness this week comes as investors have grappled with the increasing geopolitical threat from North Korea and the most powerful ever Atlantic storm barreling toward the U.S.

North Korea last weekend tested its biggest nuclear bomb to date, and the regime is feared to be preparing a missile launch (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/north-korea-is-getting-ready-for-another-possible-icbm-launch-says-south-korea-2017-09-04) on Saturday to mark the celebration of its founding day. The last time Pyongyang fired off a missile in August, it crashed into the Pacific Ocean just 575 miles east of Japan.

Read:Investors are in denial about the rising risk of war with North Korea (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/investors-are-in-denial-about-the-rising-risk-of-war-with-north-korea-2017-09-07)

Closer to home, traders have monitored the path of Category 5 Hurricane Irma that is gradually moving closer to south Florida and is expected to make landfall late Saturday or early Sunday. The storm system has already wreaked havoc on a string of Caribbean islands, leaving at least 13 people dead and buildings on two small islands -- Barbuda and Saint Martin -- almost 100% destroyed.

The National Hurricane Center has warned (http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/news/AL112017_key_messages.png?036) Irma's expected hit to Florida is a "life-threatening situation" and advised residents to follow evacuation orders from officials.

Irma comes just two weeks after Hurricane Harvey destroyed large parts of the Texas and Louisiana Gulf Coast, causing up to $190 billion in damage, according to an AccuWeather estimate.

Peter Garnry, equity strategist at Saxo Bank, estimated that the cost of Irma could be even larger, around $200 billion, because of the costly real estate in Miami and along the eastern coastline of Florida.

"U.S. property and casualty and global reinsurers have already been under pressure since Harvey formed and have declined around 10%, going from outperformer as a sector this year to underperformer. So Irma will create further opportunities in U.S. equities," he said.

"It seems likely that investors are overestimating the costs of Harvey/Irma, and other behavioral effects are likely driving down insurance stocks," he said.

Among big insurers, shares of Everest Re Group Ltd.(RE) have lost 15% this week, XL Group Ltd.(XL) is down 10%, and Travelers Cos. Inc.(TRV) has fallen 4%.

Airlines and cruise operators have also had a bad week, after canceled flights and sailings in Irma's path. Shares of JetBlue Airways Corp.(JBLU) have fallen 7.9% this week so far, while Carnival Corp.(CCL) is down 5%. The shares weren't moving premarket on Friday.

Stock movers: Shares of Equifax Inc.(EFX) tumbled 13% before the bell after the company late Thursday disclosed that personal data of 143 million Americans, including Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers and credit card numbers, had been exposed in a hack (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/equifax-breach-risks-143-million-americans-data-stock-plunges-13-2017-09-07).

American Outdoor Brands Corp.(AOBC) plunged 17% in premarket action after the gun maker posted a loss in the first fiscal quarter.

Shares of Tintri Inc. could also see action. The flash-storage company's shares dropped more than 9% in late trading Thursday after it reported a second-quarter loss (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/tintri-plunges-after-first-post-ipo-earnings-report-2017-09-07).

Economic news: Wholesale inventories for July are due at 10 a.m. Eastern Time, followed by consumer credit data for the same month at 3 p.m. Eastern.

In Federal Reserve news, Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker will give a speech on consumer finance issues at a conference on consumer behavior in credit and payments markets at 8:45 a.m. Eastern.

Other markets: Stocks across Asia closed mostly lower (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/asian-markets-waver-after-yen-peaks-at-10-month-high-2017-09-07) as the fallout from Hurricane Irma and North Korea tensions weighed on investors' minds there as well. European markets were also lower.

Crude oil prices declined, while gold moved higher.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

September 08, 2017 05:18 ET (09:18 GMT)