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Stocks - U.S. Futures Slip Lower as Coronavirus Spread Hits Sentiment

By Noreen Burke - U.S. stocks were set to open slightly lower on Thursday as reports of the spread of the coronavirus beyond China dented investor sentiment a day after two of the main indexes on Wall Street closed at fresh record highs.

At 6:45 AM ET (1145 GMT), futures for the S&P 500 edged down 0.1% while futures for the Nasdaq and the Dow Jones were down a similar amount.

China announced a steep drop in the number of new cases of the virus overnight and the country’s central bank lowered its benchmark lending interest rate amid ongoing efforts to offset the economic impact of the epidemic.

But South Korea recorded an increase in new cases, Japan reported two deaths and new research indicated the virus may spread more easily than previously believed, alarming investors.

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq rose to record closing highs on Wednesday as hopes for additional monetary stimulus by China had eased concerns about the economic fallout from the virus in what is the world’s second largest economy.

Wednesday’s minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's January policy meeting showed policymakers were cautiously optimistic about their ability to hold interest rates steady this year while acknowledging new risks caused by the virus outbreak.

In economic news, a report on initial jobless claims is due at 8:30 AM ET (1330 GMT), along with the Philly Fed manufacturing index, followed by the CB Leading Index at 10:00 AM ET (1500 GMT).

In foreign exchange markets, the dollar remained broadly stronger. Against a basket of currencies, the greenback rose to its highest level since May 2017, while the steep decline in the yen cast its status as a safe haven investment into doubt, at least temporarily.

The dollar has surged more than 2% against the yen this week, reaching its highest in almost 10 months, and climbed to three-year highs against the euro.

The yen has been pressured lower by concerns over the growing number of coronavirus cases in Japan, against the background of a slowing economy.

Meanwhile, oil prices largely held overnight gains that lifted Brent to near $60 a barrel and gold was holding steady near seven-year highs at about $1,614 per ounce.

--Reuters contributed to this report

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