By Anna Isaac
U.S. stock futures drifted higher as investors turned their focus to the Democratic presidential caucuses in Iowa, even as Chinese markets tumbled sharply in the first day of trading following the extended Lunar New Year break.
Futures tried to the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.5%, while the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 gauge was largely flat. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index closed 7.7% lower in its steepest drop since August 2015, with many stocks dropping by the maximum 10% that is allowed.
Investors are closely watching Monday's ballot in Iowa, a major electoral battleground, for insights into whether a candidate who supports a bigger role for government may beat out rival Democratic contenders. The early voting state plays a key role in the run-up to the presidential elections in November as it can provide a vital boost to some candidates vying to take on President Trump.
"Markets have previously reacted quite strongly when left-wing populist Democratic candidates have performed well," said Oliver Jones, market economist at Capital Economics.
Many investors are also betting the volatility that has rattled U.S. markets over the past two weeks is here to stay, with the election season ramping up and the viral outbreak from China continuing to curtail business operations and trade. On Friday, the S&P 500 index suffered its worst day since August, wiping out early year-to-date gains.
Ahead of the opening bell in New York, Gilead Sciences climbed 4% in offhours trading. The drugmaker on Friday said it had provided doses of an experimental antiviral drug to doctors for the emergency treatment of a small number of patients infected by the new coronavirus.
In China, investors got their first chance in more than a week to parse the potential impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the economy. Efforts to contain the disease -- which has infected more than 14,500 people -- has already led to suspension of flights to the country, a halt or slowdown in business operations, and disruptions to global trade and supply chains.
"The fall of Chinese onshore equities is not a huge surprise, given what's been happening elsewhere," Mr. Jones said. "People are interpreting these falls as catch up."
Over in the U.K., the British pound fell 1.1% against the U.S. dollar to trade at about $1.3070. The move reflected concerns about fresh trade talks between the European Union and the U.K., according to Jordan Rochester, a foreign-exchange strategist at Nomura Holdings.
The U.K. formally exited the EU on Friday and entered into a transition period. Both sides fired opening salvos on Monday as they begin the complex negotiations that will determine the terms of their future relationship.
"We expect a tough talk in the opening rounds of the Brexit talks," Mr. Rochester said. "Today, the EU and the U.K. are setting out their stalls."
Among European equities, Ingenico Group climbed 11.9% in Paris after its board of directors agreed on a cash-and-stock merger with payment-services giant Worldline in a transaction that will give Ingenico shareholders 35% of the combined business. Worldline fell over 3.5% in Paris.
Shares in Siemens Healthineers dropped 5% in Germany after the medical equipment maker's profit fell 12% in the first quarter on higher taxes and tighter margins.
Later in the day, the Institute for Supply Management will provide fresh insights on the strength of the U.S. manufacturing industry. Google's parent, Alphabet, is also scheduled to report earnings after markets close.
--Steven Russolillo, Xie Yu and Caitlin Ostroff contributed to this article.
Write to Anna Isaac at firstname.lastname@example.org