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Morning Market Roundup: Retail Sales & Wholesale Prices Down, EU Workers Strike Against Austerity

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Here’s what’s important in the business world this morning:

Retail Sales Down: Americans cut back sharply on spending at retail businesses in October thanks in part to Superstorm Sandy.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that sales dropped 0.3 percent after three months of gains. Auto sales fell 1.5 percent, the most in more than a year.

Excluding autos, gas and building materials, sales fell 0.1 percent. That followed a 0.9 percent gain in September for that category. Online and catalog purchases fell 1.8 percent, the most in a year. Electronics and clothing stores also posted lower sales.

The government said Sandy "had both positive and negative effects" on sales. Some stores and restaurants closed and lost business. Others reported sales increases ahead of the storm as people bought supplies.

So, that kinda' cancels each other out, right?

Wholesale Prices: Wholesale inflation fell in October as a dip in gasoline and other energy prices offset a rise in the cost of food.

Wholesale prices dipped 0.2 percent in October, the Labor Department said Wednesday. It was the first decline since May.

Energy prices retreated a bit in October, dipping 0.5 percent but food costs were up 0.4 percent as the summer drought continued to put pressure on some food prices.

Core prices, which exclude food and energy, fell 0.2 percent in October, the biggest drop in two years. Over the past year, core prices were up a moderate 2.1 percent, evidence inflation remains under control.

In October, the fall in energy costs included a 2.2 percent drop in gasoline prices, the biggest since July, and a 3.3 percent decline in home heating oil costs.

The rise in food costs was led by an 8.1 percent increase in the price of pork, the biggest spike in four years. The summer drought in the Midwest has driven up food costs include the cost of beef and pork because animal feeds made with corn have increased in price.

EU Workers vs. Austerity: Workers across the European Union sought to present a united front against rampant unemployment and government spending cuts Wednesday with a string of strikes and demonstrations across the region.

However, while austerity-hit countries such as Spain and Portugal saw a high turnout of striking workers, wealthier countries like Germany and Denmark experienced only piecemeal action.

Spain's General Workers' Union said the nationwide stoppage the second this year, was being observed by nearly all workers in the automobile, energy, shipbuilding and constructions industries. The country, left reeling by a series of austerity measures designed to prevent it from asking for a full-blown international bailout, mired in recession with 50 percent unemployment among the under-25s.

"Of course it's a political strike, against the policies of a suicidal and anti-social government," said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, a CCOO Spanish union leader.

The Spanish strike shut down most schools and while hospitals operated with a skeleton staff. Health and education have both suffered serious spending cutbacks and increased moves toward privatization.

In neighboring, bailed-out Portugal, where the government intends to intensify austerity measures next year, the second general strike in eight months left commuters stranded as trains ground to a virtual halt and the Lisbon subway shut down. Some 200 flights to and from Portugal - about half the daily average - were canceled.

Hospitals provided only minimum services in Portugal, and municipal trash was left uncollected overnight.

Airports across Europe suffered from the strikes, forced to cancel flights to and from striking nations.

U.S. Futures: Futures are heading higher with new government data showing that wholesale inflation led by falling gasoline prices dropped in October for the first time since May.

Dow Jones industrial futures are up 25 points to 12,742. The broader S&P futures have tacked on 5.9 points to 1,376.80. Nasdaq futures are up 14.75 points to 2,575.25.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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