US pre-open: Futures point to low open as tension in the Middle East drive oil prices up

LONDON (ShareCast) – Dow Futures pointed to a lower open on Wall Street, as investors seemed increasingly concerned about the prospects for economic growth in the US. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was expected to open approximately 140 points down, while the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 are expected to begin the session down by 50 and 14 points respectively.

US stocks fell sharply on Wednesday, marking the third consecutive session of declines, as shares in biotech and technology issues drove the markets deep into the red, with the Dow Jones losing over 290 points.

Tensions in the Middle East, where five Gulf states and Egypt carried out a coordinate air-strike in Yemen, drove oil prices up, with West Texas Intermediate climbing 2.3% to $ 50.38 a barrel, while Brent crude rose 2.3% to $ 57.82 a barrel.

“The huge overnight spike in crude futures should be positive for US energy (NasdaqCM: USEG – news) stocks but when the reason for the oil price rise is the possibility of supply disruptions, the benefit is not so clear-cut,” said CMC Markets analyst Jasper Lawler.

“Yemen is not a big oil exporter in of itself but its Aden port is at a strategic location at the mouth of the Red Sea leading into the Suez Canal where most Middle Eastern oil leaves for the rest of the world.

“The chance of actual supply disruption seems unlikely given that Egypt controls the bulk of the Suez Canal and was involved in the strikes.” In terms of economic data, US initial jobless claims fell by 9,000 to 282,000 in the week ending 21 March below consensus expectations for an unchanged reading.

Initial claims for the prior were unrevised at 291,000, while the four-week moving average of initial claims ticked lower to 297,000 from 305,000 the prior week.

In company news, data storage solutions producer SanDisk Corp (NasdaqGS: SNDK – news) plummeted 14% ahead of the bell after cutting its sales outlook.

Technical athletic apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica (NasdaqGS: LULU – news) rose 3% despite reporting a disappointing outlook, while Red Hat (NYSE: RHT – news) jumped almost 6% after the software provider reported better-than-expected results late on Wednesday.

The dollar declined 0.1% against the pound and the euro and fell 0.36% against the yen, while gold futures climbed 0.83% to $ 1,206.90.

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