Global Markets Step on the Brakes

This is the first official day of year four of the bull market, which started on March 9, 2009. In that time, the broader market is up 102%, oil prices are up 130%, and the fickle consumer discretionary sector is up a heftier 175%.

But pressuring the upside momentum now are: a slowdown in China, the debt crisis in Europe, and high oil prices. While U.S. futures are signaling a flat open, international stock markets mostly fell today.

China’s trade figures released over the weekend show the largest trade deficit in more than a decade. Imports rose last month as the Chinese recovered from the Lunar New Year. Meanwhile, a top official at the European Central Bank said the 17 nations that share the euro will likely see a “very mild recession” this  year. And while oil prices are lower this morning, hovering below $107 a barrel, they’re up sharply this year. That has translated into big gains at the gas pump; drivers filling up are paying an average of $3.80, up 12 cents in just the past two weeks, according to the Lundberg Survey.

Monday is a quiet day on the U.S. economic data front, but the pace picks up tomorrow with the release of February retail sales data. Analysts are pretty convinced the warmer winter weather is translating into solid gains for the nation’s retailers.

Tomorrow also brings a decision on interest rates from the Federal Reserve, and investors will tune in closely to anything Ben Bernanke says about another round of monetary stimulus, as the central bank now has to factor in a stronger-than-expected jobs report last Friday. The Labor Department said 227,000 jobs were created last month; and of the 500,000 people who entered the work force, 428,000 found work very quickly.