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Stocks set for flat open after China data

By msnbc.com news services

U.S. stocks are set for a flat open Monday, as economic data in China gives investors reason to pause after a 3-day rally.

The trade balance in China plunged $31.5 billion into the red in February as imports swamped exports to leave the largest deficit in at least a decade and fuel doubts about the extent to which frail foreign demand or seasonal distortion drove the drop.

The data cast some doubt on global economic growth prospects after Friday's U.S. payrolls report pointed to an improving domestic economy and pushed equities to their fourth straight weekly gain.

China's cental bank also said the country has ample room to tweak policy to support credit growth in the face of volatile foreign capital flows that will inevitably see market forces play a greater role in determining the value of the yuan currency.

Molycorp is set to buy Neo Material Technologies in a C$1.3 billion ($1.31 billion) cash and share deal that will give Molycorp access to Neo's rare earth processing capabilities and patents.

Airline JetBlue has spoken to the management of Aer Lingus about the possible purchase of a stake in the Irish airline, the Irish Times newspaper reported on Monday, citing informed sources.

Swiss watchmaker Swatch Group SA said Tiffany & Co had served it with a 541.9 million franc ($590 million) counter-claim in a legal dispute with the U.S. jeweler over a severed cooperation agreement.

Federal prosecutors have nixed a tentative $1 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson, holding out for a bigger settlement with the drugmaker for alleged improper marketing of its Risperdal schizophrenia drug, the Wall Street Journal said.

European stocks reversed early losses and turned slightly positive on Monday, reviving a three-session rally as investors shrugged off grim Italian GDP data and the triggering of Greek credit default swaps to chase euro zone banking stocks higher.

Asian shares fell as investors paused to assess the effect of strong U.S. jobs data, which scaled back expectations of more easing ahead of this week's Federal Reserve meeting, while uncertainty over Chinese growth also weighed on sentiment.

Reuters contributed to this report.