A retail slowdown for stocks
Despite news from Microsoft and GE earnings, chance of Dow hitting 12,000 dims following a surprise drop in September retail sales.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Despite positive earnings news from bellwether General Electric, investors may have to wait until next week for the Dow to reach the 12,000 mark following a surprising drop in September retail sales.

Stock futures were slightly lower, although a comparison to fair value, which indicates the direction of stocks at the market open, indicated a flat to mixed start for U.S. stocks. Futures were off of earlier levels on rising oil prices.


The Commerce Department reported that retail sales fell 0.4 percent in September on a record 9.3 percent drop in gasoline sales, but were up 0.6 percent excluding gasoline sales.

Wall Street had predicted a 0.2 percent increase, the same gain as in August.

Excluding autos, consumer spending fell 0.5 percent, falling further than expected.

The news comes in contrast to robust same-store sales readings issued earlier this month by some of the nation's leading retail chains, including department stores Kohl's (Charts) and JC Penney's (Charts) and Nordstrom (Charts).

General Electric (Charts), the No. 2 stock in the world by market value, reported it earned 49 cents a share, in line with Wall Street forecasts, on strong revenue. The company also narrowed its full-year earnings guidance to a range that includes the current consensus forecast. Shares of GE were slightly lower in early trading in Frankfurt following the announcement, though.

Stocks could also get a lift from news that software giant Microsoft (Charts) told the European Commission it will not delay shipping its new Windows operating system, Vista, to Europe, after fears that it might do so because of its regulatory disputes there.

Shares of Microsoft were narrowly higher in Frankfurt trading on the news.

Oil prices climbed in pre-market trading, on news of two oil fields being shutdown in Norway due to safety issues. U.S. light crude was up 83 cents to $58.69 a barrel in electronic trading, while Brent crude trading in London is 95 cents higher at $59.71.

Stocks in Asia closed sharply higher, with indexes in India and Singapore setting record highs and Hong Kong reaching a six-year high, as the Bank of Japan on Friday voted to leave interest rates unchanged. Stocks in Europe were up in early trading as well. The dollar gained versus the yen and the euro following the retail sales report.

Treasury prices were lower, lifting the yield on the 10-year note to 4.79 percent from 4.77 late Thursday.

Other economic reports due Friday include the latest reading on consumer confidence and another on business inventories, both due just after the U.S. market open.

In other corporate news, Hewlett-Packard (Charts) on Thursday said it named Jon Hoak chief ethics and compliance officer, a week after the company's prior ethics officer was charged with four felonies stemming from the company's investigation into boardroom leaks.

More news and information on markets ahead of U.S. open Top of page

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