NEW YORK (AP) _ Stock prices began the day lower on Wall Street.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 20 points. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down nine points.

Stocks were starting slowly despite generally better-than-expected sales results from major retailers.

Wal-Mart, Kohl's and J-C Penney all saw healthy sales gains in December. Even Sears reported a smaller-than-expected drop in sales, prompting the retailer to boost its quarterly outlook.

Kmart, meantime, says it continues to talk with lenders about its overall financial health.

In the auto industry, General Motors has raised its financial forecast for last year's fourth quarter and for the full year in 2002.

And in another signing of an improving economy, new claims for jobless benefits fell last week to the lowest level in three weeks.