The latest measure of consumer spending has come and gone without causing too many ripples in the financial markets.

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The

Census Bureau

said that

retail sales

gained 0.3% overall in January, well short of the 0.6% consensus estimate of economists polled by

Reuters

. Core sales, which exclude automobiles, actually declined by 0.3%, as opposed to expectations for a 0.5% increase.

Stock futures initially firmed on the news, but then fell back. At 9:05 a.m. EST, the

S&P 500

futures were up 4.8, a little more than a point above fair value and not indicating a very clear trend for the early going. The

Nasdaq 100

futures were up 2.95 to 4114.95, a flattish indication for tech.

The bond market, meanwhile, was edging higher, with the 30-year Treasury up 25/32 to 99 22/32, putting its yield at 6.272%. The 10-year note, meanwhile, was up 10 ticks to 99 2/32 and yielding 6.63%.

"It looks like a good number, but the upside's going to be pretty well capped," said Charles Farra, trader at

Goldenberg Hehmeyer

in Chicago. "I'd imagine we're just going to have a sideways day."

Today's numbers don't change anything fundamental for the interest-rate picture. That sales should slow significantly in January after the holiday spending spree that closed last year is not surprising. Considering the very tough monthly comparison -- December's core sales were revised up to 1.9% -- no one's ready to conclude that consumer spending is waning. At any rate, the market will get one more retail sales report before the

Fed

next meets -- and, as most market participants think, hikes rates by another 25 basis points.

For now, the market retains its perception that short-term rates are headed higher. Add that sense to the more favorable sentiment over long-term interest rates suggested by the yield curve's inversion, and you get an environment that supports the bifurcation we've been seeing in the market for so long: The stocks with the highest multiples and growth rates, which defer investors' ultimate payoff for years into the future, will continue to look more attractive than their old economy counterparts.

"I really think we'll see more of the same over the next six months," said Farra. "Unless we see consistently weaker economic numbers, I expect the short end of the yield curve to continue to go up. I wouldn't be surprised to see the two-year note go above 7%."

The large European indices were mixed in early afternoon trading. Frankfurt's

Xetra Dax

was up 73.35, or 1%, to 7782.62, and the Paris

CAC

was up 62.21, or 1%, to 6269.73. London's

FTSE

was 143.7 lower, or 2.3%, to 6136.1.

The euro was looking softer against the dollar, lately trading at $0.9811.

Tokyo markets were closed for a national holiday, but the rest of the Asian markets carried on, with action highlighted by another massive rally in Hong Kong.

The

Hang Seng

gained 535.13, or 3.2%, to a record close of 17,380.30. The benchmark index was boosted by constituent

Cable & Wireless HKT

(HKT)

, which gained 22.7% amid local reports that

Hutchison Whampoa

(HUWHY)

and

Pacific Century Cyberworks

were setting up a consortium to bid for the company. C&W HKT is currently in merger talks with

Singapore Telecommunications

.

Singapore's

Straits Times

index rose 9.62 to 2234.92. But South Korea's

Kospi

fell 12.96, or 1.3%, to 953.22 as fund managers dumped selected blue-chips and telecom shares.

The yen lost ground overnight against the dollar, which was lately sitting at 109.19 yen.

For a look at stocks in the preopen news, see Stocks to Watch, published separately.