NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. stocks were little changed on Wednesday, the third straight day of limited market action as investors shrugged off the latest data to look ahead to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech on Friday for trading incentives.
Daily volume so far this week has been low even for a seasonally slow period, with trading levels about 30 percent below the year-to-date average, an indication of how market participants are reluctant to make any major investment moves ahead of the Fed chairman’s speech.
Bernanke addresses a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and could announce new measures to boost growth. He is expected to stoke expectations for a third round of quantitative easing, though he may not detail the timing of such a measure.
In the absence of clarity on those issues, analysts expect light trading to continue. The S&P dipped over the past two sessions, but the decline was less than 0.1 percent on both days. It hasn’t closed with a 1 percent move in either direction since August 3.
“I would be willing to bet that investors are unwilling to do anything big with potentially major news events like the Fed hitting in the next couple of days,” said Mike Gibbs, chief market strategist at Morgan Keegan in Memphis, Tennessee.
“Everyone is in a wait and see mode. The market is extremely quiet and boring, and volumes are pretty much dead.”
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 8.86 points, or 0.07 percent, at 13,094.13. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index was up 0.12 points, or 0.01 percent, at 1,409.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 2.11 points, or 0.07 percent, at 3,079.25.
The S&P 500 has been pinned in a fairly tight range over the last three weeks, finding support at 1,400 while also unable to convincingly pierce the April high of 1,422.38, which has acted as a resistance point.
Gross domestic product grew 1.7 percent in the second quarter, a rate that was expected, though revised up from last month’s 1.5 percent estimate.
Pending home sales rose 2.4 percent in July, a bigger rise than had been expected and reaching their highest level in more than two years, according to the National Association of Realtors.
WellPoint Inc Chief Executive Angela Braly abruptly stepped down late Tuesday following growing investor dissatisfaction with the health insurer’s financial performance. Shares rose 7.3 percent to $61.60.
Joy Global Inc fell 5.3 percent to $50.25 and was the S&P’s biggest percentage loser after cutting its profit outlook for a second time this year, citing slowing growth in Asia and Europe.