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Japan earthquake rattles world markets

Japan earthquake sends ripple through Asia and Europe. US futures point to lower open in the United States.

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A woman walks past a panel displaying the closing benchmark Hang Seng Index at Hong Kong Stock Exchange March 11, 2011. Shares in Hong Kong and across Asia fell in the afternoon after a massive 8.9 magnitude earthquake jolted Japan.

Tyrone Siu/Reuters

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U.S. stocks look poised to fall Friday as investors try to gauge the economic fallout from the largest earthquake in Japan's history.

The earthquake shook northeastern Japan toward the end of the Asian trading session. Tsunami alerts were issued for areas as far away as the mainland U.S. West coast.

The quake caused a selloff in global stock markets, led by sharp drops in insurance companies. Japan's Nikkei closed down 1.7 percent. The yen remained stable, however, because it is seen as a relatively safe investment for international traders.

The prospect of a short-term drop in demand for crude from Japan, the world's third-largest oil consumer, sent oil prices below $100 for the first time this month. Crude fell $3.24 to $99.46 a barrel.

Stock futures briefly recovered some of their losses ahead of the start of trading after the Commerce Department reported that retail sales rose 1 percent in February, their biggest sales gain in four months. Shoppers laid out more cash for cars, clothing and gadgets in February, leading to an eighth month of retail sales gains. Analysts had only expected a gain of 0.8 percent.

But stock futures soon gave back their gains.

Ahead of the bell, Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 44 points, or 0.4 percent, to 11,876. S&P 500 futures fell 2.9, or 0.2 percent, to 1,286. Nasdaq 100 futures are fell 6.5, or 0.3 percent, to 2,274.

Stocks fell sharply Thursday on weak economic news from China, the U.S. and Spain combined with a slump in oil company shares

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