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.