Light trading in US ahead of Jackson Hole

US stocks edged higher yesterday in the lightest trading of the year as investors waited for a key speech by Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke on Friday.

Daily volume this week has been very low, even for a seasonally slow period, with the market recording three of the four lowest volume full sessions of 2012. The low volume reflected investors’ reluctance to place big bets before Bernanke’s speech.

What little excitement there was came from data showing pending home sales rose 2.4 per cent in July, a bigger gain than expected, according to the National Association of Realtors. An index of housing shares was up 0.5 per cent. “We’re seeing consistently good numbers out of the housing market. It’s hard to get too negative on the US economy with the housing market doing better than expected,” said Paul Zemsky, chief investment officer of Multi-Asset Strategies at ING Investment Management in New York.

“I think the US is doing pretty well today, given what the rest of the world has done,” he said. The Shanghai Composite index hit its lowest close since February 2009, while the S&P 500 is trading near a four-year high.

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 the Fed’s action.

The Dow Jones industrial average inched up 4.49 points, or 0.03 per cent, to 13,107.48. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 1.19 points, or 0.08 per cent, to 1,410.49. The Nasdaq Composite Index gained 4.04 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 3,081.19.