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U.S. stock-index futures edged higher after a report on retail sales topped economists' expectations, while separate data suggested inflation remained subdued. 

Today's Markets

As of 8:40 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures climbed 22 points, or 0.14%, to 15956, S&P 500 futures rose 2.8 points, or 0.14%, to 1788 and Nasdaq 100 futures advanced 9.5 points, or 0.28%, to 3384.

The American economy took center stage Wednesday. 

The Commerce Department said retail sales rose 0.4% in October, slightly above estimates of a 0.1% increase. Excluding the auto segment, sales were up 0.2%, versus the 0.1% bump expected.

The consumer sector is taking on additional significance as they key holiday shopping season kicks off. Sentiment took a hit from the government shutdown and showdown in Congress over raising the nation's debt limit. Broadly stagnant earnings growth has also weighed on the American consumer. 

Meanwhile, the Labor Department said consumer prices fell 0.1% in October, while economists expected the number to remain unchanged. Excluding food and energy, prices rose 0.1%, matching expectations. The Labor Department noted, due to the government shutdown, the sample used to calculate last month’s index was 75% of the amount usually used.The Federal Reserve pays very close attention to prices since it has a dual mandate to keep unemployment low and inflation in check. 

On that front, the Fed publishes minutes from its last policy-setting meeting at 2 p.m. ET. Traders will be looking for clues as to when the central bank will begin trimming-down its vast bond-buying program. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke reaffirmed his dovish policy stance in a statement Tuesday night. 

In corporate news, J.C. Penney (JCP) posted weaker-than-expected quarterly profits. However, an upbeat outlook sent shares zooming higher. 

Elsewhere, U.S. crude oil futures fell 4 cents, or 0.04%, to $93.30 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline dipped 0.63% to $2.622 a gallon. Gold slumped $10.70, or 0.85%, to $1,262 a troy ounce. 

Follow Adam Samson on Twitter @adamsamson.