As things finally look safe, global unrest hits
Just when things started calming down on the domestic front for U.S. investors, there's a raft of trouble overseas.
Streets are on fire in Ukraine, Libya and Venezuela. Syria continues to explode with war, and nuclear talks with Iran are on the brink. In Egypt militants have warned tourists to leave the country this week or else.
What does that mean for American investors? Not a whole lot—yet.
"The way it works is only in the bigger picture—if it's energy-related, if it looks as if there's going to be a disruption of supply, then it affects markets," said Quincy Krosby, chief market strategist at Prudential Annuities. "If it looks like it's going to become a credit problem, then it starts to make its way into the U.S. markets. Then it will affect companies or banks that have exposure."
(Read more: Venezuelan opposition leader surrenders to police)
Despite a plethora of worrisome geopolitical headlines Tuesday, only energy traders cared.
Stocks were flat and bond yields drifted lower, but prices across the energy spectrum jumped higher—a trend that, if maintained, could infect the rest of the financial markets.
"The situation is still quite volatile and subject to change. Threats are significant. If the situation escalates, there could be a disruption to Mideast oil flow," Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist at the Channel Capital Institute, said in an analysis. "The United States equity markets are particularly vulnerable since many of the sources and solutions to these problems are largely outside of our control."
However, Roberts said, there are few indications that a significant disruption is in the making.
(Read more: Foreigners hit sell button on US assets in Dec.)
"Oil prices are largely stable except for a recent uptick that may be due more to the weather than any potential supply disruptions," he said.
Roberts added that should energy prices start to rise and infect other markets, the key will be reaction from the Federal Reserve.
While the Fed usually considers price spikes in energy and food as transitory, enough of a move might make the central bank rethink its intention to draw down its monthly bond-buying program.
Outside of that, the Fed—and investors—are more prone to take a wait-and-see approach.
"As a base case in terms of its impact on the U.S. economy, I don't see it moving the needle that much unless things were to get a whole lot worse," said Josh Feinman, chief global economist at Deutsche Bank. "The things we're talking about are not sufficient to do that at this point."
(Read more: 'Probably too late' to buy US stocks: Marc Faber)
In the long run, the turmoil could even work in investors' favor once things die down.
"Overall the market is always on guard for any shock to the equilibrium of global markets, and it's always looking at how it manifests itself," said Krosby at Prudential. "If the market sells off, it quickly recovers at the very first sight of a negotiation or some sort of diplomacy to fix the problem. Very often the market tends to overreact, and it leads to a buying opportunity."
—By CNBC's Jeff Cox. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxCNBCcom.