Stocks poised for cautious start

Futures fall as investors await retail sales, fuel stockpiles report. Oil rises slightly.

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By Kenneth Musante, staff writer

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NEW YORK( -- Stocks looked set for a lackluster open Wednesday, ahead of retail sales and a weekly report on U.S. fuel stockpiles.

About three hours before the start of trading, Nasdaq and S&P futures were narrowly lower and pointing to a flat to lower open for Wall Street.

Stocks slumped Tuesday, dragged down by bank shares amid concerns about the credit crisis.

Retail sales: Futures may find direction after a report on retail sales comes at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Economists surveyed by expect sales dropped 0.1% in July.

Oil: Energy prices will be back in focus when the U.S. Department of Energy releases its weekly inventory report at 10:35 a.m. ET.

Crude futures, which are down about 23% from their peak in mid-July, rose slightly ahead of the inventory report. U.S. crude for September delivery rose 72 cents to $113.73 a barrel in electronic trading

Falling crude prices have helped push retail gas prices lower. Gasoline fell for the 27th straight day to a nationwide average of $3.787 a gallon, a daily survey from motorist group AAA revealed Wednesday.

Dollar: The dollar turned higher against the 15-nation euro after a report from the Commerce Department on Tuesday showed that a weaker U.S. currency led to more overseas sales. The greenback was slightly lower versus the yen.

Toll Brothers: The homebuilder said its revenue fell to $796.5 million in the third quarter, down 34% from the year-ago period. Toll (TOL, Fortune 500) said the results reflected "continued weakness in most of our markets."

CVS: Drug store chain CVS (CVS, Fortune 500) announced that it would build up its presence in the West Coast by purchasing Longs Drug Stores (LDG, Fortune 500) for $71.50, valuing the company at about $2.9 billion.

Best Buy: Apple (AAPL, Fortune 500) has agreed to let the electronics retailer sell the new iPhone 3G starting next month - a move that could give Best Buy (BBY, Fortune 500) a boost during the holiday season.

Yahoo: The Internet giant was close to clearing former Viacom chief Frank Biondi and John Chapple, the former head of Nextel Partners, to join its board, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The appointments, which reportedly could come by Friday, are part of Yahoo's (YHOO, Fortune 500) deal with activist investor Carl Icahn, who had threatened a proxy fight to remove the company's board last month.

The company also unveiled a platform for location-based services dubbed Fire Eagle for use with mobile phone applications.

World markets: Stocks in Asia finished lower. Tokyo shares were hit after Japan's Cabinet Office said the country's gross domestic product contracted in the second quarter. European markets fell back in midday trading. To top of page

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