Trading light in US as investors wait on the Fed

US stocks ended little changed in another day of scarce activity yesterday after mixed economic data gave investors little reason to shift their focus from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech on Friday.

The Fed chief is scheduled to address a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and could announce new measures to boost growth. While Bernanke is expected to keep alive expectations for a third round of major bond buying by the Fed, or quantitative easing, he could keep markets guessing about the actual timing.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 21.68 points, or 0.17 per cent, at 13,102.99. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index slipped 1.14 points, or 0.08 per cent, at 1,409.30. The Nasdaq Composite Index edged down 3.95 points, or 0.13 per cent, at 3,077.14.

Volume was among the lightest of the year after Monday’s lightest trading in 2012. August is a slow season, and investors mostly stayed on the sidelines, anticipating Bernanke’s speech.

“I don’t think you can read a lot from what’s going on in the market right now,” said John Fox, of the FAM Value Fund in New York. “Because there’s nothing going on, everyone is waiting for the speech on Friday.”

The latest sign of slowing in the global economy added to expectations for more central bank stimulus. Japan cut its assessment of economic growth, citing a deceleration in US and Chinese demand for Japanese exports.

US consumer confidence unexpectedly weakened in August to its lowest in nine months as Americans turned more pessimistic about the short-term outlook, according to the Conference Board.

But in another report, the S&P/Case Shiller composite index of 20 metropolitan areas showed US home prices rose for a fifth consecutive month, a sign of slow improvement in the housing sector.

Among the day’s biggest gainers, Lexmark International jumped 13.7 per cent to $21.62 after it said it would stop making inkjet printers, cut about 1,700 jobs, and focus on its more profitable imaging and software businesses.

The NYSEArca computer hardware index rose 1.2 per cent. Shares of Hewlett Packard, which has a substantial portion of inkjet sales, were down 1.8 per cent at $16.90.

Volume was 4.60bn shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with Monday’s 2012 low of 4.46 billion shares. The year-to-date average is about 6.6bn.

Among other gainers, PVH raised its full-year earnings outlook for the third time this year as it expects its European business to grow and its flagship Tommy Hilfiger brand to remain popular with shoppers.