U.S. stock index futures struggled for direction on Friday as investors remained jittery over the health of the banking sector while they weighed the odds of the Federal Reserve pausing its interest rate hikes soon.
Wall Street’s main indexes ended higher in the previous session following Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen’s reassurances that measures will be taken to keep Americans’ deposits safe amid turmoil in the banking sector sparked by the collapse of two U.S regional banks.
The comments added to the upbeat mood fueled by growing expectations that central banks were close to ending their aggressive rate hike campaign as the Fed and the Bank of England signaled caution about their next moves amid the global banking crisis after raising rates as expected.
Futures tracking Wall Street’s main indexes initially edged higher on Friday before shuttling between gains and losses.
At 5:13 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 90 points, or 0.28%, S&P 500 e-minis were down 5.5 points, or 0.14%, and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were up 10.5 points, or 0.08%.
“The volatility is continuing because the concerns are still bubbling about just how stable the U.S. banking sector is,” said Susannah Streeter, head of money and markets, Hargreaves Lansdown.
“Although they (central bankers and the U.S. Treasury) are trying to reassure markets that they’ll be standing by to take action if necessary, what investors are taking this as is the fact that regulators, central bankers and the U.S. government is still concerned about the potential for contagion.”
Shares of major U.S. banks JPMorgan Chase & Co, Wells Fargo and Bank of America edged about 0.4% lower in premarket trade.
Regional lenders’ shares were mixed. First Republic Bank was flat, PacWest Bancorp inched 0.1% lower and Western Alliance Bancorp rose 0.3%.
With traders’ bets now tilted towards a pause in the Fed’s rate hikes in May, U.S. Treasury yields fell for the third straight day, with the yield on the two-year note last at 3.7%.
On the economic data front, a report due at 8:30 am ET is expected to show orders for durable goods rose last month, while S&P Global’s survey due after the opening bell is expected to show a weakening in U.S. manufacturing activity in March.
Among major stock market movers, Block Inc fell 4.2% in premarket trading, looking set to extend losses from Thursday when Hindenburg Research disclosed short positions in the payments firm. (Reporting by Amruta Khandekar; Editing by Sriraj Kalluvila)