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Updated from 2:55 p.m. EDT

Stocks in New York edged into positive territory Wednesday afternoon after an increase in crude prices and disappointing July retail sales news earlier dealt a double blow to investor sentiment. The

Dow Jones Industrial Average

remained hindered by weak performances in its retail, manufacturing and financial components.


S&P 500

added half a point to 1290, and the


was up 5.5 points at 2436. The Dow was recently down 76 points to 11,566.

Crude-oil inventories for the week ended Aug. 8 decreased by 400,000 barrels, and gasoline supplies dropped by 6.4 million barrels. The price of crude oil jumped $3.27 to $116.28 a barrel following the announcement. Gold rose $16.90 to close at $831.50 an ounce.

On the economic data front, 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.

Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners, said that the retail sales data weren't that negative, especially discounting automobile sales. He also said that the U.S. consumer is struggling, but he doesn't foresee an actual drop in spending.

"I think the market is basically ... pulling back from the strong rally, the dollar-oil rally that we had the past week or so," he said. He said that as the market decouples from the trend of a rising dollar and declining oil prices, it may try to retest its July lows.

The sales data "was reported as close to consensus as you can get," said Haseeb Ahmed, U.S. economist for JPMorgan Economics. "Things are slowing down on the consumer-spending front as the rebates are fading, but they're not collapsing." He said that the government's stimulus package did help prop up the consumer during the second quarter. The recent drop in gasoline prices will help, but will not be enough to offset the waning effect of the rebate checks in coming months, he said.

The Census Bureau also announced Wednesday that business inventories rose 0.7% in June, a larger-than-expected jump and a larger one than the 0.4% increase in May.

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

Fannie Mae



Freddie Mac


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

On the companies side, semiconductor firm



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


. 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


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

In other earnings news, farm-equipment maker



reported third-quarter earnings that rose year over year but fell short of analyst expectations. Dow component and fellow equipment manufacturer



was trading down on Deere's results. Department-store operator



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

On the corporate merger scene, drug store operator

CVS Caremark


said it would buy

Longs Drug Stores


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

Meanwhile, biotech firm



rejected a $43.7 billion buyout offer from Swiss drug developer, which already owns a majority of Genentech shares.

In analyst actions, Citigroup initiated ratings coverage on homebuilders

Toll Brothers



Pulte Homes






MDC Holdings








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

Elsewhere, Merrill Lynch downgraded both

Goldman Sachs



Lehman Brothers


to underperform. Merrill also reduced its rating on

Morgan Stanley


to neutral from buy.

Away from stocks, U.S. Treasury prices were decreasing. The 10-year note was down 14/32 in price to yield 3.95%, and the 30-year was shedding 20/32 to yield 4.57%. The dollar was trouncing the pound, but weakening vs. the yen and the euro.

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.

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