Stocks squeezed out small gains Wednesday following the Fed's Beige Book report, but trading was thin and muted throughout most of the session as investors remained cautious ahead of Chairman Bernanke's speech at the end of the week.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 4.49 points, or 0.03 percent, to close at 13,107.48, led by Verizon , after logging losses in the last two sessions.
The S&P 500 added 1.19 points, or 0.08 percent, to end at 1,410.49. The Nasdaq gained 4.05 points, or 0.13 percent, to finish at 3,081.19. The Nasdaq rose for the fourth-straight session. Yet, the index is up only 0.91 percent over the last four days, marking the weakest four-day winning streak since October 2010.
The CBOE Volatility Index, widely considered the best gauge of fear in the market, traded above 16.
Telecoms led the key S&P sector gainers, while energy held losses.
The economy continued to show improvementin July and early August, but manufacturing activity weakened in many areas of the country, according to the Fed's latest Beige Book, a region-by-region report on business activity collected from cities nationwide.
The Fed also said retail activity, including auto sales, had picked up since its previous report.
The report comes ahead of the central bank's widely-anticipated annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where investors will listen closely to Chairman Bernanke for any hints of further easing. (Read More: What Markets Really Think Bernanke Will Say on Friday)
(Confronting the Crisis: Tune in all day Thursday and Friday to CNBC for coverage on the Fed at Jackson Hole.)
“All is quiet on the European front, in a historically quiet week with quiet economic metrics, and everyone’s waiting for Jackson Hole,” said Sal Arnuk, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading. “We are left with a lifeless market.”
The U.S. economy fared slightly better than expectedin the second quarter, expanding at a 1.7-percent annual rate, according to the Commerce Department. (Read More: Party Over? Economist Sees No-Growth Decade Looming)
Yelp surged more than 20 percent even as the lockup on nearly 53 million of its shares expired.