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Market insider: What do Chinese exports say about US retail sales?

Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Getty Images
Traders on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

The market's weather card could be in play again in coming days, and it won't merely be used by investors to shrug off disappointing data on the U.S. labor market.

"The weather had to affect shoppers in February. So, just like we had a built-in cushion for the jobs number on Friday, we've got the weather excuse for retail sales," said Chris Gaffney, senior market strategist at EverBank.

The monthly figure from the Commerce Department, a widely watched gauge of consumer spending, will follow a small upside surprise in retail sales in December, "but January disappointed largely because of the weather," offered Randy Frederick, managing director of trading and derivatives at the Schwab Center for Financial Research.

Another reason for investors not to be overly hopeful about Thursday's monthly report is the unexpected and sharp decline in Chinese exports, which helped pull Wall Street down on Monday, and could be an indicator of what's to come.

(Read more: US stocks hit as Chinese exports spur global-growth concerns)

"We're the largest destination for exports from China, so investors have started questioning what retail sales will look like this week," said Gaffney of the 18.1 percent decline in China's exports in February from a year earlier.

But some market strategists said there's a plausible explanation for the drop in China's exports last month.

"The Lunar New Year and the inflated trade data last year are reasons, in our view, to suspect that this data are not as bad as they look," noted Bill Stone, chief investment strategist at PNC Asset Management Group.

Current consensus estimates call for retail sales to jump 0.2 percent in February after a 0.4 percent decline the month before, or the most since mid-2012.

The report is to be released Thursday morning, along with weekly jobless claims, another piece of data expected to be impacted by the severe weather in recent months across much of the country.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson.

  • Patti Domm

    Patti Domm is CNBC Executive Editor, News, responsible for news coverage of the markets and economy.

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