Stocks End Up on Retail Hopes

U.S. stocks closed slightly higher Wednesday, as reports on retail and auto sales offset those underlining Europe’s debt struggles. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 21.04 points, or 0.17%, to 12,418.42. The S&P 500 gained 0.24 point, or 0.02%, to 1,277.30. The Nasdaq Composite lagged, falling 0.36 point, or 0.01%, to 2,648.36.

Retailers are expected to report healthy sales gains in December, as a last-minute flurry of shoppers scooped up marked-down merchandise. On average, analysts are estimating a 3.4 percent gain in sales at stores open at least 12 months, year-over-year, according to the Thomson Reuters Same-Store Sales Index.

A less-than-thrilling uptake of German government debt on Wednesday put a drag on the euro, kicking off a major theme for the shared currency and other financial markets as Europe’s debt crisis drags into 2012.

The American Petroleum Institute late Wednesday said crude inventories declined 4.4 million barrels in the week ended Dec. 30. The API also said gasoline inventories rose 3.4 million, and stockpiles of heating oil gained 5.2 million barrels.

Disney has reached a long-term carriage agreement with the nation’s largest TV signal provider, Comcast, that extends into the next decade.

The TouchPad tablet from Hewlett-Packard was one of the most closely watched new gadgets of 2011 — and quickly turned out to be the year’s biggest flop. The TouchPad, which was supposed to be a rival to Apple’s iPad, lasted just seven weeks on the market before H.P. killed it, citing weak sales.

Eastman Kodak is preparing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection filing in case it is unable to sell its digital patents to raise capital, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

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