U.S. stocks were set to drop at Friday’s open, extending a loss from the previous session, as news of a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan added to concerns over conflict in North Africa and the Middle East.
An 8.9-magnitude earthquake hit northern Japan on Friday, triggering tsunamis and sending a massive wave filled with debris that included boats and houses inching toward land. The death toll was more than 59, according to the Kyodo News Agency.
“The developments in Japan are going to continue with the trend: weakness in the stock market, firmness in the bond market, recovery in the dollar,” said Marc Chandler, chief foreign exchange strategist for Brown Brothers Harriman.
The quake prompted the United States to issues tsunami warnings for Hawaii and the West Coast. Nineteen other countries also issued warnings. It was followed by powerful aftershocks that were felt in Tokyo.
Asian stocks, which had been falling before the quake struck, finished sharply lower with Japan’s Nikkei falling 1.7%. European markets were under pressure in active trading.
The disaster in Japan came against a backdrop of worry about volatile political events, such as the ongoing civil war in Libya and planned anti-government protests in Saudi Arabia.
U.S. markets fell sharply Thursday, as economic data both domestically and abroad put a damper on investor sentiment. Investors’ moods were darkened further by more reports of unrest in the Middle East, specifically news reports that Saudi Arabian police fired shots on anti-government protestors.
Asian markets ended lower. The Shanghai Composite sank 0.8%, the Hang Seng in Hong Kong declined 1.5% and Japan’s Nikkei tumbled 1.7%.
Companies: The Japanese disaster had an impact on stateside insurance companies such as Aflac (AFL, Fortune 500), which experienced a premarket stock drop of 3%. Three-quarters of Aflac’s revenue come from Japan.
Economy: Retail sales rose 1% in February, matching expectations from a consensus of economists surveyed by Briefing.com. Excluding automobile sales, retail sales rose 0.7%, only slightly higher than the projected increase of 0.6%.
The government revised its retail sales figures for January, to an increase of 0.7%, compared to the previously reported increase of 0.3%. Ex-auto sales rose 0.6% in January, compared to the previously reported increase of 0.3%.
Two economic reports are due out after the opening bell. The University of Michigan releases its March consumer sentiment survey at 9:55 a.m. ET, and the Commerce Department issues its January business inventories report shortly afterwards.
Economists, on average, are looking for the University of Michigan survey to come in at a reading of 76.5, down from 77.5 in February. Business inventories are expected to have risen 0.8%.
Chandler said that Japanese investors were unwinding their surplus positions overseas, including selling off their dollars and buying up the yen.
“Japanese companies have to bring their money back home to rebuild,” he said. “Insurance companies have to buy yen to make payments.”
Oil for April delivery fell $2.76 to $99.94 a barrel
Gold futures for April delivery rose $1.20 to $1,413.70 an ounce, recovering from an earlier slump.
Bonds: The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury dropped, pushing the yield up to nearly 3.39% from 3.37% late Thursday.