U.S. stock benchmarks were headed lower early Monday, with the Dow and S&P 500 looking at their first decline in five sessions, as weaker-than-forecast Chinese economic data and the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan weighed on sentiment.

How are stock benchmarks performing?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-0.48%

was trading 210 points, or 0.6%, lower at 35,212.

The S&P 500
SPX,
-0.60%

declined 20 points, or 0.4%, at 4,444.

The Nasdaq Composite Index
COMP,
-1.19%

gave up 34 points, or 0.2%, at 15,904.

Last week, the S&P 500 tacked 0.7% and registered its 48th record close of 2021. The Nasdaq Composite registered a 0.1% decline, its second fall in three weeks. Both the S&P 500 and the Dow since Friday have registered four straight gains.

What’s driving markets?

A number of international developments was casting a pall over the otherwise bullish mood on Wall Street, following a weekend of unrest in the Middle East and growing concerns about the spread of delta variant of COVID-19.

On a daily basis, the seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases rose to 130,808 as of Sunday, according to a New York Times tracker, up 64% from two weeks ago, to mark the 11th straight day above 100,000 and the highest rate since Feb. 3. The seven-day average of deaths was 662 on Sunday, up 113% from two weeks ago and the highest since early May, while the number hospitalized has increased 65% to 76,088.

Data released out of China showed retail sales, industrial production and fixed-asset investment all rising slower than forecast. “The slowdown is now plain for all to see. The delta outbreak and return of shutdowns across China isn’t helping either of course,” said Arne Petimezas, senior analyst at AFS.

Meanwhile, the New York Fed’s Empire State business conditions index in August lost nearly all of its record-setting gains from the prior month. The headline general business conditions index fell to 18.3 in August, from 43, the regional Fed bank said Monday. Economists had expected a reading of 30, according to a survey by Econoday. 

To be sure, any reading above zero indicates improving conditions, but the sharp decline raises some concerns about the impact of delta’s spread.

That manufacturing report follows a stunning drop in the University of Michigan’s gauge of consumer sentiment, which was described as a “stunning loss of confidence.”

So far, news headlines have been focused on developments in Afghanistan, where the Taliban has swiftly taken power after the withdrawal of U.S. forces, leading some to wonder if political fallout will extend beyond foreign policy.

“For [President Joe] Biden, the developments in Afghanistan have created some unwelcome headlines just as further progress was being made on his economic agenda, with the Senate passage of the infrastructure bill with bipartisan support last week,” said Henry Allen, strategist at Deutsche Bank.

Which companies are in focus?

Shares of Tesla Inc. TSLA dropped in premarket trading Monday, after reports that the U.S. government has launched an investigation into the electric vehicle maker’s Autopilot system, after reports of multiple crashes into first-responder vehicles.

Alaska Air Group IncALK said Monday it is exercising options early on 12 Boeing Co.
BA,
-2.41%

737-9 aircraft, bringing total firm commitments to 93 737-9 aircraft. Boeing shares fell more than 2%.

Oatly Group AB OTLY, shares rose in Monday, after the plant-based dairy company gave guidance ahead of expectations.

How are other assets faring?

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y was 4.4 basis points lower at 1.26%. Yields and debt prices move in opposite directions.

The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was flat on the session.

Oil futures traded lower, with the U.S. benchmark CL. 1 down 3% at $66.41 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Gold futures GC00 traded 0.3% higher, at $1,783.70 an ounce.

In European equities, the Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP declined 0.5%, while London’s FTSE 100 UKX fell 1.1%.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP finished positive but nearly unchanged, Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK tumbled 1.6%, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index HSI shed 0.8%.

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