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Economic Slowdown: How Serious for Stocks?

NYSE exchange floor
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NYSE exchange floor

S&P futures moved up a couple points just after 7 a.m. ET as St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, speaking on CNBC, said the Fed will stay easy for long time. Bullard is a voting member of the Federal Open Market Committee and is considered a moderate.

A slower period for the economy may be a serious headwind for stocks. Consumer-oriented companies Wal-Mart Stores, Burger King Worldwide, and Kraft Foods have recently noted negative effects from the two percent tax hike.

Three companies have commented in the last 15 hours:

1) Abercrombie & Fitch beat, but the stock is down because the CEO said he expects a slower first quarter. The company indicated same-store sales would be down in high single digits, but expressed confidence for the full year. Adjusted guidance is below expectations.

2) Darden Restaurants, which owns Red Lobster and Olive Garden, preannounced a lower quarter, citing a payroll tax increase and higher gas prices. It said same-store sales would be down about 4.5 percent.

(Read More: Bears Bite Into Darden Restaurants)

3) Nordstrom guided below consensus for 2013, though it did not comment on the economy. Traders have noted to me that the department store group (Macy's, Nordstrom, Dillards, BonTon, among others) has been a source of funds year-to-date, underperforming the market. It doesn't look like trends have changed at Nordstrom, but the macro headwinds — payroll tax, energy costs, weather, and tough first-quarter same-store sales — are an overhang for the space in general.

(Read More: Dennis Gartman Sees 'Toxic Test' for Retail)

A number of analysts have turned cautious, as well. Thomas Lee at JPMorgan was particularly negative this morning. He noted that "as this rally has matured, the risk/reward becomes less favorable as markets develop vulnerability to downside surprises. We believe we have reached that point this week, where incremental "fresh money" will find better entry points in the first half — in other words, it is challenging to see the elements to support a big lift in equity prices from these levels. Thus, we recommend investors turn cautious and defer incremental purchases."

Katie Stockton, chief Market Technician at MKM Partners, also noted "The pullback in the SPX this week suggests the market may have already entered its correction phase, which we have been anticipating in the March-April time frame."

Like many technicians, see noted that the market has reached overbought levels, and recommends "taking down exposure to non-core holdings." Her support is at 1,475.

Greg Valliere of Potomac Research Group summed up much of the above sentiment in a single sentence: "The economy hasn't stalled, but it's starting to feel like it."

Elsewhere:

1) Mixed week for global indices. Japan rallies continues, but most of the rest of the world are down. China had its worst week in more than a year.

This Week:

Japan 1.90%
Germany 0.78%
Spain -0.03%
S&P 500 -1.14%
Brazil -2.19%
Hong Kong -2.82%
China -4.86%

2) Chinese new-house prices continue to rise. Chinese new-home prices climbed in 53 out of 70 cities in January on a monthly basis ... this will only strengthen the government's resolve to slow price increases. Talk of additional taxes on housing was one of the reason the Chinese stock market fell this week.

(Read More: Why China Curbs Aren't Bad News for Property Stocks)

By CNBC's Bob Pisani

  • A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

Wall Street