It's been a long time since the market's had as poor an opening tone as it does this morning. Thanks to a general flight from equities around the entire globe, U.S. stocks are going to take a very big hit when they start trading.


bloodletting started in Japan, where the


plummeted 560.47, or 2.8%, to 19,189.93 as investors fled large-cap tech and telecom stocks. Taking its cue from Tokyo, Hong Kong's

Hang Seng

tanked 735.18, or 4.1%, to 17,096.68.

The large European indices have

followed up those performances by selling off correspondingly hard. Near midsession, Frankfurt's

Xetra Dax

was down 324.40, or 4.1%, to 7651.55, while the Paris


had fallen 236.00, or 3.6%, to 6274.28. In London, the


was off 165.3, or 2.5%, to 6403.4.

And now the futures are portending a lot of pain here at home. At 9:05 a.m. EST, the

S&P 500

futures were down 29.8, about 26 points below fair value and indicating some heavy program-selling at the open for the broad large-cap market. Things don't look any better for technology. The

Nasdaq 100

futures were lately down 82 points -- that's

limit-down for the NDX futures on


and more than enough to knock the

Nasdaq Composite Index

way below its treasured 5000 threshold.

"Put on your seatbelts," said Jack Bouroudjian, senior vice president of equity futures trading at

Commerz Futures

. "It's going to be a wild ride."

With no particular corporate or interest-rate news playing the role of catalyst this morning, the magnitude of those negative indications suggests a level of nervousness we haven't seen in a while among the futures traders. The market's been able to shrug off big overseas selloffs rather easily in the recent past.

"It's all Europe and Asia," Bouroudjian said. "And quite honestly, if that's the reason it's getting hit, I'd be cautiously optimistic to buy at the open or in the first half hour of trading. Let's see where we open them, and see where the action and the real money is, rather than the guys trying to mark the books on Globex."

TheStreet Recommends

It will indeed be interesting to see how soon the market is willing to buy the weakness in technology. With all the talk about market divergence and fund-flow dynamics, it's now conventional wisdom that a continuation of the current outperformance of tech is inexorable.

If you're thinking that attitude is more than a little complacent, and could be setting up a big disappointment, you're right. Just don't go off and do something rash like shorting the


(QQQ) - Get Report


Heartened by the worldwide pullback in equities, the bond market was edging higher. The 10-year note was up 25/32 to 101 19/32 and yielding 6.281%, while the 30-year Treasury was 27/32 higher to 101 27/32, putting its yield at 6.115%.

Though overshadowed by the imminent morning selloff, there's a bit of corporate news out today. Leading the M&A headlines is

i2 Technologies'


$9.3 billion stock

purchase of

Aspect Development


. Meanwhile, newspaper firm



has set plans to buy

Times Mirror


for about $6.5 billion in cash and stock.

Crude for April delivery was trading down a penny to $31.75 a barrel on the

New York Mercantile Exchange

. OPEC, which will meet in Vienna on March 27, is mulling an agreement to boost production by between 1 million and 1.5 million barrels a day, according to

The Wall Street Journal

, which cited two officials from major oil-producing countries. That would alleviate, but not completely end, the worldwide crude shortage.

The dollar edged lower against the yen overnight, falling to around 105.84 yen. The greenback had moved as high as 106.67 yen following the release of Japanese October-December

gross domestic product

figures. GDP fell 1.4% from the previous quarter, more than the expected 0.9% decline and the second-straight quarter of economic contraction. A 4.6% increase in corporate investment mitigated the bad news somewhat.

The dollar was lately sitting at 106.67 yen, while the euro was trading at $0.9637.

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