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Market sell-off triggers fears of 'Asian flu' again

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The U.S. may be in less for a bout of Asian flu than it is for a pretty bad fever. For investors, though, the symptoms will feel similar.

Trouble in China has sent global markets stumbling out of the gate in 2016, with the down about 4 percent and worries rising that things could get even worse.

As for the broader economy, importing a recession would be a first for the U.S. That's one reason most economists don't expect a full-blown case of the "Asian Flu" that bedeviled the world in 1998, with China's slowdown instead part of a larger puzzle.

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"The U.S. economy has been slowing for the past 18 months. To a large extent, that slowdown is reflective of what's going on in China," said Steve Blitz, chief economist at ITG Investment Research. "We need to understand that in an interconnected world, there's no such thing as segregating out one sector of the economy."

That sector which Blitz referred to is energy, and for much of the past year ignoring weakness there became a popular mantra among economists and Wall Street strategists.