Recession worries surged, slamming financial markets, amid signs that service businesses may be stumbling. A key barometer of the strength of the service sector dropped to its lowest level since October 2001 and suggested those businesses are now contracting. ISM’s Non-Manufacturing Business Activity Index registered 41.9% in January, indicating a significant contraction in business activity in January from the seasonally adjusted 54.4% registered in December. This is the first contraction in the non-manufacturing sector since March 2003, when the index registered 46.3%, and the lowest Business Activity Index since registering 40% in October 2001 (one month after 9/11). The next piece of major economic data comes in a week with the retail sales report for January. Reports from retailers already offer cause for concern. Capital Economics today offers another sign of caution, and it goes back to the surprise drop in the ISM’s nonmanufacturing index that shook markets yesterday. The firm tracks the ISM’s service-sector index against real consumer spending and finds they are correlated, meaning that next weeks retail sales report should prove interesting! Even so, most pundits still only put the chance of the U.S. entering recession at 42%. All for now…time to polish the crystal ball.