1. Coronavirus death toll hits 132, as disruption to business spreads
The number of deaths from the novel coronavirus reached 132, while the number of confirmed cases hit 6,000. While the virus continues to spread, the relatively low apparent mortality rate (SARS killed nearly 10% of those it infected) has allowed a degree of relief to seep through to financial markets.
However, the dip in economic activity in China and further afield continues to take shape. Toyota suspended production in the country, while Starbucks (NASDAQ:SBUX) said it would close 2,000 branches temporarily, joining McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) and KFC owner Yum! Brands (NYSE:YUM). The U.S. and Japan both started evacuating citizens from the country, while British Airways suspended all flights to China.
China’s transport ministry said overall trips during the current new year holiday season were down 7.2% on the year – a less dramatic decline than earlier figures had suggested.
2. Apple's blowout earnings
Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) stock is expected to open at a new record high after results for the company’s first quarter of the current fiscal year came in well ahead of expectations. Strong sales of iPhones and its wireless AirPod earbuds, as well as higher revenue from its app store, all contributed.
Revenue rose 9% to $91.82 billion, also assisted by sales of wearables and streaming subscriptions. The company predicted revenue of $63-$67 billion in the current quarter – a wider range than usual due to the uncertainty created by the coronavirus outbreak. Apple has suppliers in Wuhan, where factories have pushed back their scheduled reopening date to Feb. 10, according to reports. In addition, the company faces a hit to retail sales in China, where it has cut store opening hours.
The support to the market from Apple’s earnings after the bell on Tuesday was slightly undermined by weaker-than-expected updates from chipmakers Xilinx (NASDAQ:XLNX) and Advanced Micro Devices (NASDAQ:AMD).
3. Earnings season hits its peak; with stocks set to open higher.
Earnings season is set to reach its peak, with reports due from – among others - Facebook, Tesla, General Electric, Mastercard, AT&T, Boeing, McDonald’s, Paypal, Mondelez, ADP , Southern, Anthem, Dow, Marathon, T. Rowe Price, Stanley Black & Decker and Archer Daniels Midland.
For now at least, U.S. stock markets are indicated to open higher, supported by the Apple update and by an easing of fears about the coronavirus impact.
By 6:25 AM ET (1125 GMT), Dow 30 futures were up 62 points or 0.2%, while S&P 500 futures were up 0.3% and Nasdaq 100 futures were up 0.4%.
European stock markets were all solidly higher, with strong updates from Banco Santander (MC:SAN) and pharma giant Novartis leading the way.
4. Fed seen on hold; comments on repo, virus likely to grab headlines
The Federal Reserve will announce the results of its monetary policy meeting at 2 PM ET, to be followed at 2:30 by Chairman Jerome Powell’s press conference.
The meeting is not a “live” one, in the sense that there are no expectations for any change interest rates. Instead, the focus is likely to be on what Powell says about the Fed’s balance sheet policy, and whether or when it expects to withdraw repo funding that was initially supposed just to ease the market over the year-end period, but which has since seemingly morphed into an unofficial relaunch of quantitative easing.
Powell’s comments on the impact of the coronavirus on the economic outlook will also be of interest.
5. GOP senators feel the heat
The impeachment trial of President Donald Trump may turn out not to be the foregone conclusion that everyone expected.
The Wall Street Journal reported late on Tuesday that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had told his colleagues he didn’t yet have enough votes to be sure of blocking Democrat demands for witnesses such as former National Security Advisor John Bolton to testify.
Bolton’s memoir reportedly contains first-hand accounts of Trump candidly explaining that he was withholding military aid to Ukraine - which had been authorized by Congress – pending the announcement of a criminal investigation into his political rivals.