Stock market struggles for direction amid earnings barrage, ahead of Fed meeting – MarketWatch

U.S. stock-index futures saw lackluster moves early Tuesday, though a stream of earnings reports could provide a cue for a shift, with Wall Street also focused on the start of the Federal Reserve’s two-day policy meeting later in the day and fresh developments in global trade.

What are the main benchmarks doing?

Futures for the Dow Jones Industrial Average YMM8, -0.13%  fell 30 points, or 0.2%, to 24,096, while those for the S&P 500 ESM8, -0.04%  gave up 2.25 points, or 0.1%, to 2,644.75. Nasdaq-100 futures NQM8, -0.07%  fell 10.25 points, or less than 0.2%, at 6,602.50

The moves come after a negative session on Monday, when the Dow DJIA, -0.61%  pulled back 0.6%, the S&P 500 SPX, -0.82%  dropped 0.8% and the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.75%  gave up 0.8%.

Read MarketWatch’s Need to Know column: Billionaire Sam Zell warns on stocks and real estate: ‘Where’s the beef?’

For the month of April, the blue-chip gauge logged a 0.3% gain, cutting its year-to-date loss to 2.3%. The S&P rose 0.3% in April, but is still down 1% in 2018. The tech-laden Nasdaq rose less than 0.1% on the month, with a year-to-date advance of 2.4%.

What’s driving markets?

The Federal Reserve will draw attention, as policy makers are slated to start a two-day meeting Tuesday. When it wraps its meeting on Wednesday, the central bank is expected to leave interest rates on hold and signal no change to a tightening path of two more rate increases in 2018, even given bond yields and inflation have been rising faster than expected.

See: Why the Fed could make 4 rate hikes this year

The U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel imports are in focus again. President Donald Trump late Monday gave top allies—the European Union, Canada and Mexico—an extension to the tariff exemption to allow more time negotiate a new pact to avoid the levies. The tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% aluminum—already in effect against China, Russia, Japan and others—were slated to come into effect on May 1, but have now been pushed back to June 1.

“The U.S. decision prolongs market uncertainty, which is already affecting business decisions,” the European Commission said in response. “The EU should be fully and permanently exempted from these measures, as they cannot be justified on the grounds of national security.”

Trade relations have been a driver of action on stock markets recently, though the spotlight has been on tensions between the U.S. and China. Traders are likely to watch U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s visit to China this week for high-level trade talks.

What are strategists saying?

• “We don’t expect any change to the Fed Funds target this week and do not believe investors should be expecting a significant change in policy over the course of 2018,” said Eugene Philalithis, portfolio manager at Fidelity International, in a note.

“This is the most gradual rate hiking cycle of modern times, and the Fed Funds target rate is expected to peak lower than historical averages, reflecting this era’s lackluster growth and modest inflation,” he added.

• “On a day where much of Asia and Europe are out for holiday, the main event is U.S. ISM manufacturing: we expect a fall from 59.3 to 58.0,” said Kristoffer Kjær Lomholt, senior analyst at Danske Bank, in a note.

“Looking ahead, we expect a further decline over the coming months but stress that ISM manufacturing has been elevated for quite some time now compared with other indicators and hard data,” he added.

Which stocks are in focus?

Shares of Boeing Co. BA, -2.15%  rose 0.2% in thin premarket trade after the airplane maker said it plans to buy plane-parts specialist KLX Inc. KLXI, -2.27%  for $3.2 billion. KLX shares were down 7.3% ahead of the open.

Merck & Co. Inc. MRK, -1.01% reported a first-quarter profit beat and sales miss early Tuesday. Merck shares rose slightly in premarket trade.

Pfizer Inc. PFE, -1.05% shares declined 2.2% in premarket trade Tuesday after the company reported a first-quarter sales miss. Shares of the Dow component were trading 1.5% lower in the premarket.

Aetna Inc. AET, -0.46%  reported Tuesday that it swung to first-quarter net income of $1.21 billion, or $3.67 a share, from a loss of $381 million, or $1.11 a share, in the same period a year ago. Shares rose 0.5% in the premarket.

U.S.-listed shares of BP PLC BP, +0.84% rose ahead of the bell even after the oil giant reported its strongest quarterly profit since mid-2014, lifted by higher oil prices and rising production.

Shares of Tenet Healthcare Corp. THC, -1.36%  were up 5.7% in premarket trade after the company’s first-quarter earnings topped expectations late Monday.

Shares of Archer Daniels Midland Co. ADM, -1.45% rose in premarket trading Tuesday as the company reported first-quarter earnings that topped analyst expectations.

Under Armour Inc. UAA, -0.39% shares rose 2.1% in Tuesday premarket trading after the athletic company reported first-quarter earnings and revenue that beat expectations.

On the earnings docket on Tuesday morning is HCA Healthcare Inc. HCA, -0.53%

In the news, Vista Outdoor Inc. VSTO, +0.42% could be in focus after it announced a business transformation plan, in which it will focus on its core brands in ammunition, hunting and shooting accessories, hydration bottles and packs and outdoor cooking products. Shares weren’t being traded in premarket.

And then after the market closes, Apple Inc. AAPL, +1.81% Mondelez International Inc. MDLZ, -1.08% Gilead Sciences Inc. GILD, -2.21%  and Snap Inc. SNAP, +0.70%  are expected to report.

Which data are in focus?

The Markit manufacturing purchasing managers index for April is due at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Time, followed by the ISM manufacturing index for the same month at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Construction spending data for March are slated for release at 10 a.m. Eastern as well, while monthly auto sales will trickle out through the day.

Check out: MarketWatch’s Economic Calendar

What are other markets doing?

European stocks SXXP, +0.02%  were little changed, with most markets closed for the May Day or Labor Day holiday. U.K. stocks UKX, +0.43%  rose, boosted by a sliding pound GBPUSD, -0.7628% after a reading on manufacturing activity fell to a 17-month low.  

Many markets in Asia were also closed for the holiday. Stocks in Japan NIK, +0.18%  closed 0.2% higher.

Gold futures GCM8, -0.73%  dropped 0.7%, while oil futures CLM8, -1.11%  slid 1%. The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, +0.46%  was up 0.4% to 92.230, after capping its best month since February 2017 on Monday.