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Stocks Open Lower Amid Economic Jitters

Stocks opened slightly lower Wednesday as investors grew jittery over a government report showing that housing starts fell sharply in October.

Housing starts unexpectedly fell 10.6 percentto their lowest level in six months, weighed down by a sharp decline in construction activity for both single-family and multi-family dwellings.

At the same time, the consumer price index rose 0.3 percent, indicating that inflation may not be quite as benign as some economists have indicated.

At the opening bell, HP , 3M and P&G were the biggest drags on the Dow. Bank of America and ExxonMobil were the indexes biggest gainers.

An interesting twist in the Cadbury saga: Hershey is reportedly considering a joint bid with Italy's Ferrero, famous for its Nutella spread and Ferrero Rocher choclates, for the British chocolatier. Up until now, Kraft Foods was the only bidder but Cadbury wasn't happy with the offer.

Tobacco stocks could see action after JPMorgan raised its view on the sector and upgraded Reynolds American to "neutral" from "underweight."

At 10:30 am, the Energy Department will be out with its usual Wednesday release of oil inventory numbers, while the Mortgage Bankers Association is set for its 7 am release of weekly mortgage applications.

Retail earnings have been in focus this week as the holiday shopping season approaches - and today's light earnings calendar does include some more companies in that sector.

JCPenney announced plans to stop publishing its twice-yearly "big book" catalog as more consumers are doing their shopping online.

BJ's Wholesale shares fell as the warehouse club operator's profit for the third quarter that ended Oct. 31 fell to $17.7 million, or 32 cents a share, from $28.2 million, or 48 cents a share, a year earlier.

Limited Brands will have its quarterly numbers after the closing bell.

Among stocks to watch today: Salesforce.com, which matched forecasts with its after-the-bell earnings Tuesday, while Autodesk's latest numbers beat estimates.

Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report
Winterizing Your Portfolio - A CNBC Special Report

Also in the news: Delta Air Lines and alliance partners are offering $1 billion to Japan Airlines to sway the money losing carrier from its affiliation with American Airlines.

Toyota posted its first year-over-year global sales increase in October in 15 months, with sales rising 5 percent.

A notable event occurs as the Dow chalks up its ninth gain in 10 sessions Tuesday: The blue chip average rose at the same time the dollar index gained ground. Yesterday was only the 6th time in 24 sessions that this has occurred, stirring speculation that the dollar down/stocks up equation is beginning to erode.

Oil rose to near $80 a barrel and gold hit a new high of $1,149.60 a troy ounce.

Major indexes notched modest gains on Tuesday but it was enough to propel them once again at their highest closes in more than a year.

— Peter Schacknow and Rick Santelli contributed to this article.

Still to Come:

WEDNESDAY: Weekly crude inventories; Earnings from Limited
THURSDAY: EU chooses new president; Fed's Plosser, Fisher speak; Ghosn, Rattner speak; weekly jobless claims; leading indicators; Philly Fed; Geithner speaks; Earnings from Sears, Dell, Gap
FRIDAY: Fed's Plosser speaks; state-by-state jobs report

Send comments to cindy.perman@nbcuni.com.

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