U.S. stocks were set to open lower on Thursday as rising concerns over U.S. trade protectionism, this time around car imports, overshadowed optimism that the Federal Reserve may be more tolerant of rising inflation than previously expected.
The Trump administration launched a national security probe into car and truck imports on Wednesday that could lead to new tariffs, with Beijing calling the move an "abuse" of the clauses and saying it would defend its interests.
The decision added to jitters over the prospects of trade negotiations with China, reignited after Trump called for "a different structure" to any trade deal.
Shares of European and Asian automakers skidded on the tariff possibility, while U.S. automakers inched marginally higher premarket.
Ford was up 0.2 percent and General Motors gained 0.4 percent. U.S.-listed shares of Fiat fell 2 percent, while those of Ferrari dipped 0.6 percent.
"The markets are adjusting now with lots of uncertainties, with China, North Korea, (and the prospect of) a trade war that could spill over to other parts of the economy and the world," said Adam Sarhan, chief executive of 50 Park Investments in New York.
By 8:50 a.m. ET, Dow e-minis were down 56 points, or 0.23 percent. S&P 500 e-minis were down 4.5 points, or 0.16 percent and Nasdaq 100 e-minis were down 11.5 points, or 0.17 percent.
Wall Street posted small gains on Wednesday after minutes from the Fed's latest meeting suggested higher inflation may not result in faster interest rate hikes.
Shares of Victoria's Secret-owner L Brands fell 6 percent, while those of data storage equipment maker NetApp dropped 4.6 percent following weak forecasts.
Best Buy Co slipped 5.5 percent as investors focused on slowing online sales growth over the better-than-expected quarterly comparable sales.
Williams-Sonoma jumped 11.3 percent after the Pottery Barn owner posted strong quarterly results and gave a healthy forecast.
Shares of Medtronic rose 1.5 percent after its quarterly profit topped Wall Street estimates on higher demand for heart valves and diabetes devices.