NEW YORK — The equity markets are braced for a tough 2003, regardless of what happens in Middle Eastern deserts or South American oil fields.

At the forefront, of course, are concerns over the possibility of war with Iraq, followed by concerns about North Korea. Other geopolitical issues, such as Venezuela, have added to the run-up in energy costs, which in turn has depressed consumer spending on discretionary items. As reported, Salomon Smith Barney estimates that a 1 cent increase in the price of gasoline translates into a $1 billion decrease in retail spending.

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