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Inventory futures are flat amid constructive virus therapy information, debate looming

A pedestrian wearing a face mask looks at a smartphone as he passes in front of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York on Monday, July 20, 2020.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

U.S. stock futures traded flat Tuesday evening following the release of Regeneron Pharmaceuticals' coronavirus treatment data while traders waited for the first presidential debate.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average futures rose just 13 points, or 0.1%. The futures on the S&P 500 and Nasdaq 100 also rose marginally.

After the closing bell, Regeneron said its REGN-COV2 drug lowered virus levels and improved symptoms in out-of-hospital coronavirus patients. "The greatest treatment benefit was in patients who did not have an effective immune response of their own, suggesting that REGN-COV2 could be a therapeutic replacement for the naturally occurring immune response," said George D. Yancopoulos, Regeneron's chief scientific officer, in a statement .

Regeneron's announcement came after concerns about a virus resurgence dampened market sentiment on Tuesday, causing key averages to spark a three-day winning streak. The Dow fell more than 100 points, or 0.5%. The S&P 500 also closed 0.5% and the Nasdaq Composite 0.3%.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said the daily positive rate of coronavirus tests in the city is back above 3% for the first time in months.

"Coronavirus infection rates rise in Europe and the US when children return to school," Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at US bank Wealth Management, wrote in a note. "We expect the US to continue its modest pace of economic improvement despite threats from virus growth and a weaker labor market."

The futures have been kept in check as traders prepared for the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Joe Biden, due to begin at 9 p.m. ET. According to RealClearPolitics, Biden has entered the debate with an average lead of 6.1 percentage points in the last few polls.

Many market strategists have cited choice uncertainty as a critical headwind for the market before year-end, with each outcome having its own risks and benefits. Some investors have raised concerns about a possible Biden win, fearing it could lead to higher corporate taxes and regulations. At the same time, this could alleviate concerns about the trade war and lack of incentives to boost the economy after the coronavirus.

Investors are also concerned that the race could get even closer after the debates, leaving the potential for a lengthy electoral process where the November 3 result is too close and neither candidate concedes. This uncertainty could particularly weigh on the market.

"Much will be at stake," said Tom Block, Washington political strategist at Fundstrat Global Advisors, in a note to clients about the debate. "On the plus side, the president is a professional entertainer and loves the camera … but the president has so much confidence in his ability to debate that he probably won't spend much time preparing."

Biden "will have hours of mock debates and carefully considered strategy; while the president instinctively seeks murder," Block said.

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