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US markets await Fed minutes; futures perk up on rise in retail sales

U.S. stock-index futures shifted higher on Wednesday after retail sales climbed more than anticipated in October and inflation remained tame, with Wall Street largely focused on minutes later in the day from the Federal Reserve's last meeting.

A Commerce Department report showed retail sales up 0.4 percent last month, beating expectations of a 0.1 percent rise and compared to a 0.1 percent drop the month before.

Separate data from the labor Department showed the cost of living fell 0.1 percent last month, illustrating less costly fuel, cars and clothing. The core consumer-price index, which excludes food and energy, climbed 0.1 percent.

Another report on existing home sales for October is expected from the National Association of Realtors at 10 a.m. Eastern.

Optimistic remarks from outgoing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke had cheered global markets.

(Read more: European shares lower ahead of Fed's 'main event')

Speaking in Washington on Tuesday night, Bernanke said the central bank would maintain its easy monetary policy for as long as needed, and would only begin to reduce bond-buying once convinced that labor market improvements would continue.

On Wednesday afternoon, minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee's meeting in October are expected.

"While Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing at the Senate banking committee last week gave few signals about the likely path for near-term policy, the minutes will be watched closely for any clues as to when the Fed is looking to start tapering," Emily Nicol, an economist at Daiwa Capital, said in a morning note.

(Read more: If Fed minutes reveal taper talk, watch yields)

After mixed earnings on Tuesday, retail stocks remained in focus, with the release of third-quarter numbers from J.C. Penney, with the struggling retailer reporting bottom and top-line misses, but positive comments on the company's turnaround had shares rising in pre-market trade.

Lowe's fell in early trading after the home-improvement retailer posted third-quarter profit below Wall Street's estimates.

Yahoo gained after the online-search engine hiked its stock-repurchase plan by $5 billion. Deere & Co. also rose after the maker of farm equipment reported profit that topped estimates.

Other stocks worth watching on Wednesday include JPMorgan Chase, which rose on Tuesday after reaching a record $13 billion settlement with federal and state authorities to resolve claims over its sales of mortgage-backed securities during the housing crisis.

—By CNBC's Kate Gibson and Katy Barnato

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