NEW YORK (Reuters) - U.S. stocks ended little changed in another day of scarce activity on Tuesday 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.
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, co-manager of the FAM Value Fund, in Cobleskill, 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 U.S. and Chinese demand for Japanese exports.
U.S. 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 U.S. 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 Inc LXK.N jumped 13.7 percent 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 .HWI rose 1.2 percent. Shares of Hewlett Packard (HPQ.N), which has a substantial portion of inkjet sales, were down 1.8 percent at $16.90.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was down 21.68 points, or 0.17 percent, at 13,102.99. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX slipped 1.14 points, or 0.08 percent, at 1,409.30. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC edged down 3.95 points, or 0.13 percent, at 3,077.14.
Volume was 4.60 billion shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with Monday’s 2012 low 4.46 billion shares. The year-to-date average is about 6.6 billion.
The S&P 500 has been pinned in a fairly tight range over the last three weeks, finding a support level at 1,400 while also unable to convincingly pierce the April high of 1,422.38, which has acted as a resistance point. The index has been unable to muster a move of at least 1 percent in either direction since August 3.
Among other gainers, PVH Corp (PVH.N) 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. Shares climbed 4.8 percent to $92.77.
Movado Group Inc (MOV.N) shares were up 17.4 percent at $35.36 after hitting an all-time high of $36.11. The watchmaker reported a higher second-quarter profit and raised its full-year earnings forecast for the second time.
Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 4 to 3 and on the Nasdaq by about 14 to 9.
Editing by Kenneth Barry