NEW YORK (AP) – Stocks opened moderately lower Wednesday as investors returned from the holiday to news of weaker-than-expected retail sales.
The International Council of Shopping Centers said its index of retail chain store sales rose 2.8 percent last week, rounding out a sluggish December performance that puts retailers on track for a smaller sales gain than the trade group originally expected. Still, there is some hope sales will rebound as shoppers start spending with holiday gift cards.
Other reports released Christmas Day were disappointing. Target Corp. indicated its sales may have fallen in December. The nation's No. 2 retailer scaled back sales projections, saying same-store sales for the five weeks through Jan. 5 would range from a 1 percent increase to a 1 percent decrease versus earlier expectations for a gain of between 3 percent and 5 percent.
MasterCard Inc. said holiday spending — including credit, cash and checks — climbed a modest 2.4 percent between Thanksgiving and Christmas, weighed by a slowdown in sales of women's apparel. That compares with a rise of 6.6 percent over the same period last year.
The news could raise concerns about the strength of consumer spending and in turn the economy. However, it was widely expected that holiday sales would be slower than in years past.
In the first hour of trading, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 28.69, or 0.21 percent, to 13,520.64.
Broader stock indicators also fell. The Standard & Poor's 500 index declined 5.77, or 0.39 percent, to 1,490.68, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 11.77, or 0.43 percent, to 2,701.73.
Major stock indicators advanced in an abbreviated trading session Monday on news that Merrill Lynch & Co. will get a cash infusion from two investment groups, including Singapore's government-controlled fund Temasek Holdings. The money is expected to cushion the brokerage's mortgage-related writedowns in the fourth quarter.
The stock, bond and commodities markets were closed Tuesday for Christmas.
Bond prices fell Wednesday. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its yield, rose to 4.23 percent from 4.21 percent late Monday.
Oil and gold prices edged higher as the dollar retreated against other major currencies.
A barrel of light, sweet crude gained $1.58 to $95.71 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
The holidays were on investors' minds as they looked for signals about the consumer but also insights about the broader economy.
Costco Wholesale Corp.'s chief financial officer told The Wall Street Journal it had "pretty good" holiday-season results so far. CFO Richard Galanti said the mass merchandiser largely avoided inventory gluts that would necessitate hefty markdowns. Costco slipped 60 cents to $70.16.
Acquisition appeared to help investor sentiment. Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. on Tuesday agreed to pay $4.5 billion to buy 60 percent of Marmon Holdings Inc., a privately held company with more than 125 manufacturing and service businesses.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average closed up 0.65 percent. European stock markets were closed for an extended holiday.
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