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Wall Street Edges Lower

A better-than-expected report on productivity and unit labor costs helps limit the selling pressure on U.S. stocks Wednesday. Commodity prices are slipping.

Updated from 9:27 a.m. EDT

Stock index futures improved Wednesday as a better-than-expected report on productivity lifted sentiment on Wall Street.

S&P 500

futures were down less than a point at 1420 and were about 1 point above fair value. Futures on the Nasdaq 100 were losing 1.3 points to 1998, but were 2 points ahead of fair value. That suggested a slightly higher open. Earlier, futures were indicating a moderate pullback at the start of trading.

The tone became more positive after the Labor Department said first-quarter nonfarm productivity rose at a 2.2% annual rate, topping the 1.5% consensus estimate and the 1.8% pace in the fourth quarter. Job cuts and reductions in hours worked helped the increase. Growth in productivity is viewed as a sign that inflation is being kept under control.

At the same time, unit labor costs were up 2.2%, a cooler figure than had been forecast and down from a 2.8% advance in the previous quarter.

Last time out, investors managed to bring equity measures higher despite assorted downbeat news from the financial space, including a big loss at

Fannie Mae


, and a fresh record for oil prices.

In the end,

Dow Jones Industrial Average

overcame early losses to rise by 51 points to 13,021, and the S&P 500 added 11 points to 1418. The

Nasdaq Composite

was up 19 points to 2483.

After the prior close, tech bellwether

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Cisco Systems

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reported coming in ahead of analyst expectations last quarter with an adjusted profit of $2.3 billion, or 38 cents a share. Sales ramped up 10.4% to $9.8 billion. Still, shares were off 1.3% in the premarket.

Meanwhile, fellow tech names


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confirmed they are planning to merge their wireless broadband businesses.

The new company, to be named Clearwire, is set to receive a $3.2 billion collective investment from


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Time Warner Cable


and Bright House Networks.



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shares added 2% early after the entertainment conglomerate said earnings leaped 22% to $1.1 billion. Per-share income handily beat expectations.

Back on the economic docket, pending-home sales data should come out at 10 a.m. EDT, and the government's weekly crude stockpile report is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. EDT.

Commodity prices were slipping. Crude oil was down 30 cents at $121.54 a barrel early on. Gold futures were off $6 to $877.70 an ounce. The U.S. dollar climbed by 0.7% against both the euro and the yen.

Treasury prices were rising. The 10-year note was up 2/32 in price to yield 3.91%, and the 30-year bond rose 11/32 in price, yielding 4.64%.

Markets abroad were mostly higher. Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index lost 2.5% overnight, but Nikkei 225 in Tokyo climbed 0.4%. Among European bourses, London's FTSE 100 and the Paris Cac were both tacking on 0.6%. Germany's Xetra Dax was up 0.9%.