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Futures slide amid worries over China; Caterpillar tumbles

U.S. stock index futures signaled a sharply lower open Wednesday, amid worries over financial conditions in China and as investors digested a mixed bag of corporate earnings.

(Read more: Why bullish technical analyst is worried about 2014)

Among earnings, Caterpillar tumbled after the heavy equipment maker missed earnings expectations and slashed its full-year revenue guidance. CEO Doug Olberhelman called this year "difficult," especially in Caterpillar's mining-related business.

Meanwhile, fellow Dow component Boeing rallied after the jet maker posted quarterly results that easily topped expectations and raised its full-year outlook. The company also lifted its production scheduled for the Dreamliner to 12 units per month from 10 by 2016.

AT&T, Akamai and E-Trade are among notable companies scheduled to report earnings after the closing bell.

Japan's Nikkei and the Shanghai Composite hit one-week and two-week lows amid reports that top Chinese lenders including the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China wrote off about $3.7 billion in bad debt for the first six months of the year, higher than last year. Plus, a spike in short-term Chinese money rates weighed on sentiment, after the central bank refused to inject cash into markets for a second straight session.

"The Asian trading session today has seen some pick-up in volatility with equity markets across the region lower… Real GDP growth appears to be improving in China but confidence is likely to remain fragile given these lingering concerns over the degree of bad loans in the banking sector," said Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi's Derek Halpenny in a research note.

The fall-back in Asian markets followed a worldwide boost to risk-on assets on Tuesday, after weak official U.S. employment data piqued hopes the Federal Reserve will not start tapering off its asset purchases until next year.

The S&P 500 set a record high for the fourth-straight session Tuesday, closing well above 1,750. Meanwhile, the Dow is within 1.5 percent of its all-time record set last month.

On the economic front, U.S. import prices gained 0.2 percent in September, but there was no indication of a rise in imported inflation pressures, according to the Labor Department. In the 12 months through September, import prices declined 1.0 percent.

Apple edged lower a day after the tech giant failed to wow investors with its new iPad Air and iPad Mini. Still, Evercore lifted its price target on the company to $630 from $600.

(Slideshow: Rising smartphone stars look to outshine Apple)

Netflix slid after activist investor Car Icahn revealed late Tuesday that he had cut his stake in the movie streaming company to 4.5 percent from 9.4 percent. The filing came a day after the company delivered strong earnings.

Safeway soared after Reuters reported that several buyout firms, including Cerberus Capital, may be exploring a deal for all or part of the supermarket chain, citing sources familiar with the matter.

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