Stocks closed slightly higher as investors waited to see whether tonight's speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke would signal further cuts in interest rates.
Bernanke will discuss the national and regional economy tonight at 6:45 pm New York time in a speech that will be carried live on CNBC.com
The market bounced around all day amid mostly negative economic news, including disappointing results at Sears Holdings. The listless session followed a huge two-day rally that was triggered by growing expectations of more interest rate cuts.
Fed Vice Chairman Donald Kohn strongly hinted on Wednesday that the central bank was prepared to ease rates to keep the economy from falling into a recession. Investors are hoping the Bernanke will reinforce that view in his speech tonight.
"I think we're setting up for a little bit of a relief rally in December," said Chris Orndorff, managing principal and head of equity for Los Angeles-based money manager Payden & Rygel. "I don't know if we're going to get back to the old highs, but what the market is showing us is the correction which occurred in November that was led by the bond market and financial service companies is largely over."