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US: Wall St opens flat after retail sales, UMich data on tap


[NEW YORK] US stocks opened flat on Friday, with the S&P on track for a fourth straight weekly advance, after data on retail sales and ahead of a report on consumer sentiment.

The Dow industrials closed at a record high on Thursday, boosted by gains in Wal-Mart, but the S&P 500 was little changed as energy shares tracked crude futures prices lower.

Overall retail sales, which account for about one-third of consumer spending, climbed 0.3 per cent in October, topping expectations for a 0.2 per cent increase.

Other data showed US import prices fell in September by the most in more than two years as the cost of petroleum products declined and a strong dollar made it cheaper for Americans to buy goods from abroad. "The fall in gasoline prices is absolutely what the doctor ordered and I would be surprised if the holiday season wasn't better than expected as a result of that," said John De Clue, chief investment officer at US Bank Wealth Management in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While the Dow and S&P have continued to set record highs, recent gains have been modest, with the S&P 500 yet to post a gain of at least one per cent this month. "This is a market that has something for everyone but there are still a lot of people on the sidelines that are skeptical," said Mr De Clue.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 6.94 points, or 0.04 per cent, to 17,645.85, the S&P 500 gained 0.05 points, or 0 per cent, to 2,039.38 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 5.21 points, or 0.11 per cent, to 4,674.93.

The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan preliminary November reading on consumer sentiment is expected later in the session at 9:55 am (1355 GMT.) Expectations call for a reading of 87.5 versus the final October reading of 86.9.

The S&P 500 is up 0.4 per cent for the week and has rallied 9.5 per cent from a six-month low in October, buoyed by supportive economic data and corporate earnings. For the year so far, it is up 10.3 per cent.

Baker Hughes gained 4.1 per cent to US$61.13. The oilfield services company said it was in preliminary merger talks with its larger rival Halliburton Co, which was up 4 per cent to US$55.94. The two stocks were the best performers on the S&P 500.

Geron Corp surged 33.3 per cent to $3.08 after it licensed its cancer compound to a Johnson & Johnson unit for up to US$935 million.