Dow, S&P 500 at record levels ahead of Yellen hearing

Though Federal Reserve vice chair Janet Yellen's confirmation hearing as the next Fed chair isn't until this morning, a Wednesday release of her planned testimony was enough to help propel the Dow and the S&P 500 to record closes. Yellen said the Fed has more work to do to help the economy and the labor market, remarks taken to mean that the Fed will not necessarily scale back its bond-buying program right away. Yellen will appear before the Senate Banking Committee this morning.

As investors await additional remarks by Yellen, they'll have a batch of economic data to consider, including the Labor Department's weekly report on first-time claims for jobless benefits at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists are looking for 331,000 new claims for last week, down from 336,000 the prior week.

At the same time, the government will release the delayed reports on the September trade deficit and third quarter productivity and labor costs. Consensus forecasts call for a trade gap of $38.8 billion, which would be identical to the August number, and an annual rate productivity increase of 2.4 percent.

At 10:30 a.m. ET, the EIA will release its weekly look at natural gas inventories, followed by the holiday-delayed release of oil and gasoline inventory numbers at 11 a.m. ET.

The Treasury will sell $16 billion in 30-year bonds, with the results of that sale available shortly after 1 p.m. ET.

Wal-Mart (WMT) leads our list of companies set to issue quarterly earnings this morning, with Viacom (VIAB), Tyco (TYC), and Kohl's (KSS) also set to report. Semiconductor equipment maker Applied Materials (AMAT) will be out with quarterly numbers after today's closing bell, along with Agilent (A) and Nordstrom (JWN).

Cisco Systems (CSCO) leads our list of stocks to watch, after first quarter sales came in about $300 million below consensus. It also guided second quarter earnings below current analyst forecasts, and warned of an 8-10 percent drop in second quarter revenues because of weak demand in emerging markets. The networking equipment maker did report fiscal first quarter profit of 53 cents per share, beating estimates by two cents, and also added $15 billion to its stock buyback program.

Boeing (BA) machinists have rejected a contract proposal that would have given concessions in return for longer-term job security. Boeing's proposal was controversial because of higher health care costs and an end to the workers' pension plan.

NetApp (NTAP) reported fiscal second quarter profit of 66 cents per share, excluding certain items, three cents above estimates, though revenues were shy of consensus. The maker of data storage equipment points to cuts in government spending for the revenue shortfall.

SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) posted third quarter profit of $1.33 per share, 12 cents above estimates, but revenue was short of consensus, as is the theme park operator's narrowed full year revenue guidance. However, SeaWorld is seeing growth in attendance and revenue per visitor.

Aflac (AFL) has announced a buyback program of up to 40 million shares of its common stock. That's in addition to 16.9 million in authorizations remaining under a previous program.

BorgWarner (BWA) is splitting its stock two-for-one. The auto parts maker will distribute the shares December 16 to shareholders of record as of December 2.

General Motors (GM) chief executive Dan Akerson could step down as early as next year, according to a Reuters story. However, the report also said no search for a successor has yet begun.

Herbalife (HLF) has gained hedge fund manager Richard Perry of Perry Capital as a new major stakeholder. An SEC filling shows Perry bought more than 2.6 million Herbalife shares during the third quarter.