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Wall Street weighs retail sales

Wall Street looked set to open narrowly lower on Friday on this week's key U.S release—retail sales.

August retail sales rose 0.6 percent, above July's upwardly revised 0.3 percent gain and in-line with expectations. Retail sales for August ex-autos rose 0.3 percent, the same rate as in July.

Futures, which had been mixed, turned flat to slightly weaker on the news.

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Some rebound had been expected in August sales after July's subdued reading, with underlying spending supported by the marked decline in gasoline prices.

Separately on Friday, the Labor Department reported the biggest drop in nine months for U.S. import prices. Import prices for August fell 0.9 percent, matching expectations. Prices had slipped 0.3 percent in July

In addition, Thursday's Quarterly Services survey from the Commerce Department revealed an upturn in health care spending.

"Services spending momentum was clearly improving going into the third quarter," said Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi's Derek Halpenny in a research note. "August should be solid."

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An upbeat retail sales read will likely support stocks into next week's important Federal Open Market Committee meeting, which is looming large as investors ponder when the Federal Reserve will opt to start raising interest rates.

"Global equities seem to be in a holding pattern as we head into next week's FOMC meeting," Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG Markets said in a morning note.

Analysts at Capital Spreads said equity markets would continue to "stumble around in uncertainty" on Friday.

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"It's unlikely that traders will be looking to put on any large positions going into the weekend," the brokerage firm said in a note.

This Friday also brings the preliminary reading of the University of Michigan's consumer sentiment survey for September.

In the corporate space, Darden Restaurants reported fiscal first quarter profit of 32 cents per share, one cent above estimates, with revenue also above forecasts. The company said it is pleased with improvements seen recently but that it still has more work to do. Separately, Darden is under more pressure from activist investor Starboard Value, which submitted 300 slides detailing ways to improve the Olive Garden parent's operations.

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The European Union implemented a new round of sanctions against Russia on Friday and the U.S. has indicated it will follow suit with similar measures. Europe's new sanctions further restrict access to foreign capital for Russia's largest state-controlled companies, including top energy firms. Leading Russian politicians were hit with foreign asset freezes and travel bans.


—By CNBC's Katy Barnato. Reuters contributed to this report.