China is letting the helium out of Wall Street's balloon, something some high-profile earnings misses and the U.S. economy had threatened to do, but didn't, earlier this week. Stock futures are pointing sharply lower as red-hot Chinese economic figures stoke fears that the government there will raise interest rates - which would be bad news for U.S. exporters.
And of course, investors haven't forgotten the late February-early March global equity rout that stemmed from a drop in Chinese stocks after the nation expressed concern about speculative investments.
Caution is pervading other markets.
The dollar has dropped against the yen, but has moved away from a two-year low against the euro. U.S. Treasuries are higher as investors seek safe havens. Meanwhile, there's economic data to chew on back in the States.
The Conference Board is releasing its report on March leading indicators shortly after the opening bell, and the Philly Fed's index of regional factory activity is coming later on. Also on tap are more speeches by Fed officials.
Oil prices have fallen below $63 a barrel as news of refinery runs, including Enbridge's restarted part of a Canadian-U.S. pipeline, outweighs concerns about Iran's nuclear program.
In earnings, Continental Airlines and Schering-Plough reported higher-than-expected profits, while Merrill Lynch's net income more than quadrupled.
Lisa Von Ahn - Editor