Stock indexes edge higher ahead of talks on Greece

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NEW YORK (AP) — Stock indexes were swinging from losses to gains early Wednesday ahead of talks in Europe on containing that region’s debt crisis.

At 11:28 a.m. the Dow Jones industrial average was up 11 points to 11,115. It had been up as many as 73 points and down as many as 112 points with an hour after the opening bell.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 3 points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,176. The Nasdaq rose 16, or 0.6 percent, to 2,549.

U.S. retail sales were flat in August. Economists had expected a slight gain. People spent less on autos, clothing and furniture as fears mounted that the country was slipping into a recession and as the stock market took a steep fall.

The leaders of Greece, France and Germany will confer by teleconference later Wednesday to seek ways of avoiding a default by Greece. European stock indexes rose as investors hoped the talks would be productive. Germany’s DAX rose 2.9 percent and France’s CAC-40 rose 1.3 percent. The threat of a default and the damage it could wreak on financial markets has had investors on edge for weeks.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel distanced herself from comments this week by her vice chancellor and others who suggested a Greek bankruptcy was possible. The finance ministers from the 17 nation-bloc that uses the euro currency will meet on Friday in Poland. Separately, Italy’s parliament was set to vote on a badly needed deficit-cutting package later Wednesday.

ConAgra Foods Inc. said it would withdraw its $5.17 billion bid for Ralcorp Holdings Inc. if the company doesn’t consider its bid by Monday evening. Ralcorp has already rejected several bids from ConAgra since March. Ralcorp’s stock dropped 7 percent to $76.70. ConAgra fell 2 percent to $23.60.

Computer maker Dell Inc. rose 2.2 percent to $14.70. Dell said Tuesday it will add $5 billion to its existing $2.1 billion stock-buyback plan. Dell bought $1.1 billion of its stock in the second quarter.

General Electric Co. and other industrial companies led stocks higher on Tuesday, the second day of gains in a row. It was the first back-to-back gain this month.