Stocks slump at open

Wall Street retreats as sluggish monthly retail sales and troubling job market numbers add to recession fears.

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NEW YORK ( -- Stocks slumped at the open Thursday as lackluster sales figures from the nation's retailers and mixed readings on the economy added to worries about a recession.

The Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), the broader Standard & Poor's 500 (SPX) index and the Nasdaq composite (COMP) all declined in the first minutes of trade.

Crude staged a modest rebound Thursday, edging higher by 3 cents to $109.38 a barrel.

Economy: Much attention, however, was paid to the latest economic numbers.

The private sector lost 33,000 jobs in August, according to a report Thursday by payroll manager ADP. The decline, which was led by the manufacturing sector, was bigger than expected. Economists surveyed by were anticipating a loss of 30,000 jobs.

A weekly reading on jobless claims revealed that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits jumped unexpectedly by 15,000 last week to 444,000. Economists were expecting another week of declines to 420,000.

Still, there was some encouraging numbers as productivity climbed by a bigger-than-expected 4.3% during the second quarter, the Commerce Department reported. Those figures were accompanied by a decline in labor costs, which could help tame inflation fears.

At 10 a.m. ET, the Institute for Supply Management will reveal its services index that tracks orders from supply managers. The consensus expects a reading of 49.5 for August, which would be unchanged from the prior month and reflect a continued downturn in the sector.

At 10:35 a.m., the U.S. Energy Information Administration will release its weekly report on oil stockpiles. A Platts survey expects an increase of 500,000 barrels in oil stocks and a drop of 1.8 million barrels of gasoline stocks. The report is for the week just before the arrival of Hurricane Gustav in the Gulf of Mexico, and won't fully reflect the storm's impact.

Retail: A number of retailers, including Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), released same-store-sales figures for the month of August on Thursday.

The world's largest retailer reported a 3% increase in sales at stores open at least one year, as consumers flocked to the low-cost retailer in the back-to-school season. The numbers trounced analysts estimates who were anticipating a decline.

Still, Wal-Mart appeared to be the exception rather than the rule as several mall retailers including Limited Brands (LTD, Fortune 500), and high-end stores such as Nordstrom (JWN, Fortune 500) reported bigger-than-expected sales declines.

Other markets: The dollar was flat against the euro and slightly lower against the yen.

The dollar, which has recovered significantly in recent weeks, was met with resistance as both the European Central Bank and the Bank of England kept their benchmark interest rates unchanged amid rising inflation fears.

European markets were mixed and Asian markets closed lower. To top of page

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