10 things you need to know before the opening bell

Here is what you need to know.

There’s more evidence China’s economy is slowing. China’s Caixin-Markit services purchasing managers’ index fell to 51.2 in February from 52.4 in January. While the services sector saw a slowdown, it’s still expanding as the reading remained above the 50.0 line between expansion and contraction. Both new orders and the pace of hiring slowed, and the backlog of orders declined. “Latest data indicated a softening of growth momentum across China’s service sector…pointing to a rate of growth that is much slower than the historical series average,” Markit said. China’s yuan strengthened 0.2% to 6.5400 per dollar.

China’s state-owned enterprises might be downgraded. On Wednesday, Moody’s placed China’s sovereign debt rating on credit watch negative, meaning there was a one-in-three chance it would be downgraded. Fast forward to Thursday, and now the credit rating agency has placed 38 state-owned enterprises on review for a possible downgrade. “The government’s financial strength may come under pressure if it takes on liabilities from troubled state-owned companies, while capital outflows have limited policy makers scope to stimulate the weakest economy in a quarter century,” Moody’s said in its release. China Mobile, Citic Group, China State Construction Engineering and China Metallurgical Group are among the names that are impacted.

European PMI data was pretty bad. Thursday is PMI day in Europe, and the results are pretty disappointing. The eurozone saw its composite number fall to 53.0 (53.6 previous) as both manufacturing and services readings declined. A drop to 49.2 (50.3 previous) for French services has that sector back in contraction, and has dragged the composite reading (49.3) down with it. It was a mixed bag for Germany as manufacturing slid to 50.5 (52.3 previous) while services climbed to 55.3 (55.0 previous). The euro is little changed at 1.0880.

Global food prices hold near a 7-year low. Global food prices ticked up slightly in January, but remained near their lowest levels since April 2009, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation’s food price index. February’s reading edged up to 150.2 from 150.0 in January, but that’s coming off a 19% drop in 2015. The index has fallen for four consecutive years. Favourable agricultural conditions, slowing global demand and a strong US dollar continue to point to prices remaining low.

SandRidge’s former CEO allegedly co-conspired with Aubrey McClendon. People familiar with the matter told Bloomberg, former SandRidge CEO Tom Ward allegedly co-conspired with the late Aubrey McClendon on rigging oil leases. McClendon was indicted on Tuesday, and died in a one-car crash on Wednesday. Neither SandRidge nor Ward responded to Bloomberg when asked for comment.

Volkswagen’s former CEO knew about the emissions scandal. Former Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn knew about his company’s emissions scandal for more than a year before it was admitted, according to The Guardian. Previously, Volkswagen had denied Winterkorn had any knowledge of the scandal until it was reported. The company is still defending Winterkorn, saying the news was presented to him in a weekend email, and there’s no proof he actually read it.

Home flipping has reached a new peak in some US markets. A report from RealtyTrac discovered 12 US home markets are seeing flipping activity that is higher than their 2005 peaks. The report said, on average, home flippers made $55,000 per sale with those in markets like New York and Los Angeles seeing an average profit of more than $100,000. Cities seeing new highs in home flipping include: Birmingham, Buffalo, Cleveland, Memphis, Pittsburgh and San Diego (has fallen from 2014). “These sales artificially inflate home prices, making housing even less affordable for buyers and increasing the risk of a bubble,” Matthew Gardener, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, said in the report.

Stock markets around the world are mixed. Japan’s Nikkei (+1.3%) led the way up in Asia and France’s CAC (-0.3%) lags in Europe. S&P 500 futures are down 1.25 points at 1982.25.

Earnings reports continue to flow. Barnes & Noble, Joy Global and Kroger highlight the names reporting ahead of the opening bell while Broadcom International and Smith & Wesson are among those releasing their results after markets close.

US economic data is heavy. Initial and continuing claims, productivity and unit labour costs will all be released at 8:30 a.m. ET. Then, factory orders and ISM Services are due out at 10 a.m. ET. Natural gas inventories will cross the wires at 10:30 a.m. ET. The US 10-year yield is up 2 basis points at 1.86%.

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