Futures hit by U.S.-China tension; airlines tumble as Berkshire pulls away

(Reuters) – U.S. stock index futures retreated on Monday after a fresh spat between Washington and Beijing over the origin of the novel coronavirus, while airlines slumped as Berkshire Hathaway dumped its holdings in the sector.

FILE PHOTO: The New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) is seen in the financial district of lower Manhattan during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in New York City, U.S., April 26, 2020. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

Delta Air Lines (DAL.N), American Airlines Co (AAL.O), Southwest Airlines Co (LUV.N) and United Airlines (UAL.O) fell between 8% and 11% in premarket trading, adding to their woes as air travel remains restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Warren Buffett-backed Berkshire’s (BRKa.N) move also shaved more than 5% off planemaker Boeing Co’s (BA.N) shares.

Berkshire Hathaway itself posted a record quarterly net loss of nearly $50 billion and said its performance was suffering in several major operating businesses. Its shares fell 1.4%.

Over the weekend, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “a significant amount of evidence” that the coronavirus emerged from a Chinese laboratory, but did not dispute U.S. intelligence agencies’ conclusion that it was not man-made. An editorial in China’s Global Times said Pompeo was “bluffing”.

Pompeo’s statement comes after Wall Street started May on a grim note as President Donald Trump revived a threat of new tariffs against China in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When you think how nervous markets got about the U.S.-China trade war then if this theme continues you can’t help thinking that the end game is far worse than it would be from a simple trade war,” said Jim Reid, a strategist at Deutsche Bank.

The S&P 500 index’s .SPX 29% recovery from its March lows stands to be tested as investors weigh renewed U.S.-China tensions and the economic damage of the health crisis.

At 7:28 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis 1YMcv1 were down 267 points, or 1.13%. S&P 500 e-minis EScv1 were down 24 points, or 0.85% and Nasdaq 100 e-minis NQcv1 were down 74 points, or 0.85%.

Investors are also awaiting factory orders data for March, which is expected to show a sharp decline.

With more than half of the S&P 500 companies having reported earnings so far, analysts now see first-quarter S&P 500 earnings falling 12.7% from a year ago, and an even sharper 37.8% decline for the second quarter.

Reporting by Shreyashi Sanyal and Medha Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty

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