Soft Data Weigh on Stocks

Traders weigh a decline in July retail sales and import and an uptick in the import price index.
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Updated from 9:14 a.m. EDT

U.S. stocks skidded downward at the open Wednesday as disappointing government read on July retail sales reminded investors of the plight of U.S. consumers.

The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

slid 67 points to 11,575, and the

S&P 500

slumped 4 points at 1286. The

Nasdaq

was flat at 2431.

The Census Bureau reported that retail sales decreased 0.1% in July, a result that fell short of economists' projections for a flat reading. Barring automobiles, retail sales increased 0.4%, less than the expectation for a 0.5% increase.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics' import price index rose 1.7% in July. Excluding oil, the price of imported goods increased 0.9%. Export prices, excluding agricultural products, rose 0.8% in July, a smaller increase than 0.9% in June.

Traders will also be focusing on the behavior of numerous financial-services stocks, as well as mortgage giants

Fannie Mae

(FNM)

and

Freddie Mac

(FRE)

, following Tuesday's expiration of a government regulation banning so-called naked short-selling of their stocks.

On the companies side, semiconductor firm

Nvidia

(NVDA) - Get Report

said it swung to a quarterly loss because of flawed chips and a failure to anticipate the impact of a new graphics chip from rival

Advanced Micro Devices

(AMD) - Get Report

. However, the announcement of a share buyback gave the stock an early boost.

Another piece of discouraging news in the semiconductor sphere came from

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

, which said its profit declined 65% for the third quarter owing to the economic slowdown.

In other earnings news, farm-equipment maker

Deere

(DE) - Get Report

reported third-quarter earnings that rose year over year but fell short of analyst expectations. Department-store operator

Macy's

(M) - Get Report

announced a decline in second-quarter profit and lowered its full-year outlook.

On the corporate merger scene, drug store operator

CVS Caremark

(CVS) - Get Report

said it would buy

Longs Drug Stores

(LDG)

for roughly $2.6 billion in an effort to expand its presence in the western U.S.

In analyst actions, Citigroup initiated ratings coverage on homebuilders

Toll Brothers

(TOL) - Get Report

,

Pulte Homes

(PHM) - Get Report

,

Ryland

(RYL)

,

MDC Holdings

(MDC) - Get Report

,

Lennar

(LEN) - Get Report

and

Centex

(CTX)

. Toll and Pulte garnered buy ratings, while the remainder received hold recommendations.

Away from stocks, U.S. Treasury prices were rising. The 10-year note was up 2/32 to yield 3.89%, and the 30-year was gaining 4/32 to yield 4.53%. The dollar was gaining on the euro and trouncing the pound, but weakening vs. the yen.

In the commodities area, crude oil was adding 47 cents to $113.48 a barrel. Gold was up $8.30 to $822.90 an ounce.

Overseas exchanges, including the FTSE in London, the DAX in Frankfurt, the Nikkei in Tokyo and the Hang Seng in Hong Kong, were mostly trading lower.