The Paris Bourse is set to open virtually unchanged on Monday morning, with investors opting for a cautious approach ahead of this week's ramp-up of the quarterly corporate earnings season.

At around 8.15 a.m., the future contract on the CAC 40 index - for delivery at the end of April - climbed 9.5 points to 8023 points, heralding a stable or very slightly upbeat start to the session.

For almost a month now, the world's stock markets have been treading water, or even consolidating sluggishly, as inflation in the United States wakes up and Fed officials make increasingly cautious statements.

Faced with doubts surrounding the timetable for a first rate cut on the other side of the Atlantic, and an economic recovery that is still struggling to materialize in Europe, equity markets are following a bumpier path.

In Paris, the CAC 40 index - which was still flirting with the major resistance level of 8250 points at the end of March - has lost 2.4% in less than two weeks, and is now trading not far from its important support level of 8000 points.

On Wall Street, the three major indices have just posted two consecutive weeks of decline, after having previously enjoyed nine straight weeks of gains.

These uncertainties have pushed gold to new record highs, as traders worry not only about re-accelerating inflation in the USA, but also about current geopolitical tensions and rising public debt.

At the same time, volatility as measured by the CBOE's VIX index - often referred to as the fear index - rebounded to levels not seen since last autumn and the Hamas attacks on Israel.

On the bond market, Wall Street's pause did not encourage a return to Treasuries, with the yield on the US ten-year climbing to 2.50%, a new annual high.

With earnings 'season' set to get into full swing from this week onwards, investors will be able to test market fundamentals through the accounts of listed companies.

As far as US corporate earnings are concerned, FactSet data now predicts only a 0.9% rise in first-quarter profits, down from 3.4% at the end of March.

Some 44 companies belonging to the S&P 500 index, including six Dow Jones stocks, will publish their accounts this week.

After JPMorgan's disappointing performance last Friday, the accounts of Goldman Sachs - due at midday - followed by those of Bank of America and Morgan Stanley (tomorrow) will be particularly closely watched by the markets.

The announcements of Johnson & Johnson, Netflix and Procter & Gamble will also be closely watched in the coming days.

In Europe, the week will be dominated on Wednesday by the results of ASML, one of the driving forces behind the recent rise in European markets, followed by Nokia.

According to analysts, positive publications - and not just in the technology sector - will help the stock market rally by boosting optimism in equities.

As far as economic indicators are concerned, retail sales figures are expected in the USA today, as well as industrial production figures tomorrow.

Investors' eyes will also be on Beijing, where Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) figures will be published tomorrow, providing valuable clues as to the recovery of the world's second-largest economy.

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