Stock indexes fall after weak retail sales report

NEW YORK (AP) ? Stock indexes fell in early Wednesday as a weak report on U.S. retail sales outweighed optimism over talks in Europe on containing that region’s debt crisis.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 87 points, or 0.8 percent, to 11,018 at 10:20 a.m. It had been up as many as 73 points shortly after the opening bell.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 8 points, or 0.7 percent, to 1,164. The Nasdaq fell 7, or 0.3 percent, to 2,525.

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 1.8 percent and France’s CAC-40 rose 0.7 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 10 percent to $76.70. ConAgra fell 2 percent to $23.60.

Computer maker Dell Inc. rose 1.8 percent to $14.65. 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.