Economy

Futures rise on strong retail sales numbers

NEW YORK (AP) — U.S. stock futures edged higher Wednesday after the government released surprisingly strong retail sales numbers for October.

Americans were apparently not spooked by the partial, 16-day government shutdown, as some economists had feared. Dow Jones industrial futures rose 2 points to 15,936. S&P futures gained less than a point to reach 1,785.80. Nasdaq futures added 6.5 points to 3,382.

Retail sales had the biggest upward shift in four months, the Commerce Department reported Wednesday. Sales rose 0.4 percent in October, but that number is even better if the steep drop in gas prices is excluded. Removing sales at gas stations, retail spending increased 0.5 percent.

Cheap gas also helped to keep inflation in check. The Labor Department reported that overall consumer prices fell slightly in last month. But even removing volatile gas prices, inflation is still very mild.

A more diverse landscape emerged from retailers themselves. J.C. Penney badly missed profit projections for its most recent quarter, but comparable-store sales so far this month during the lead-up to the crucial holiday shopping season are proving to be surprisingly strong.

The retailer's shares jumped 9 percent before the opening bell. Lowe's however, fell a penny short of Wall Street's per-share profit expectations. That might have been overlooked, given a positive outlook, except that only one day earlier, rival Home Depot topped expectations handily.

Deere & Co. reported a strong second quarter, though it expects revenue to be under some pressure next year because crop prices have fallen. Its outlook was still better than most industry watchers had expected and shares rose almost 4 percent.

Later Wednesday, the National Association of Realtors reports on the number of previously occupied homes sold in October. Most economists, with mortgage rates and home prices ticking higher, say that sales are plateauing.

The U.S. Federal Reserve releases minutes from the October meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee as well.

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