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Futures Slide Ahead of Bernanke Remarks

Stock index futures pointed to a lower open Wednesday ahead of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s first appearance before the House of Representatives since the Republicans took control.

Bernanke appears before the House Budget Committeeat 10 a.m. in what promises to be one of the most-widely-watched events of the trading day.

Bernanke's efforts to boost the economy through a $600 billion bond-buying program have come under fire and staunch Fed critic Rep.Ron Paul (R-Texas) will hold a hearing on whether the Fed's bond-buying program and record-low interest rates can really help cut unemployment.

Statements by Fed governors on Tuesday indicated that some Fed officials are prepared to discuss a tightening of monetary policy in light of looming inflation.

Richmond Fed President Jeffrey Lacker said the Fed should be willing to cut back its $600 billion in Treasury purchases if employment improves and consumer spending holds up.

Brian Sack, the executive vice president of the Markets Group at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, is scheduled to speak at an event at the Philadelphia Fed at 5:45 p.m. ET. Sack is expected to discuss the Fed's asset purchase program.

Stocks closed higher in the previous session, even as China's latest rate hike held back global stock markets initially.

In the morning's economic news, applications for U.S. home mortgages dropped last weekas the highest interest rates in 10 months sapped demand for home loan refinancing, acording to the Mortgage Bankers Association. The group said its seasonally adjusted index of mortgage application activity, which includes both refinancing and home purchase demand, fell 5.5 percent in the week ended Feb. 4.

On the earnings front, Coca-Cola reported higher-than-expected quarterly sales, helped by its third straight quarter of sales growth in North America.

Shares of fellow Dow component Disney rose 4.5 percent in extended trading after the company reported a profit that beat Wall Street forecasts, aided by a hefty rise in advertising sales at its ESPN cable sports channels and a strong showing from its parks and resorts division.

And Sanofi-Aventis said hefty new restructuring costs caused its net profit to slump 64 percent, amid continued uncertainty over the fate of its nearly $20 billion bid for U.S. biotechnology firm Genzyme.

Meanwhile, Syngenta posted a forecast-beating set of 2010 figures. The world's biggest maker of agricultural chemicals is set to benefit from soaring food prices as farmers invest in products to boost harvests and buy more weed and bug killers.

Cisco , Activision Blizzard and MetLife are among firm that will be reporting after-the-bell tonight.

On the tech front, Apple will be in focus after the Wall Street Journal reported that the tech giant has begun to make a new version of its iPad tablet computer with a front-facing camera and faster processor.

Shares of 3M rose in pre-market trading after the diversified manufacturer raised its dividend and announced a $7 billion share repurchase program.

Meanwhile, AIG said it will take a fourth-quarter charge of $4.1 billionfor raising loss reserves at global property insurer Chartis. On Tuesday, the insurer opted to delay its "re-IPO" until late April or May, according to sources.

Coming Up This Week:

WEDNESDAY: Oil inventories, 10-year Treasury note auction, Bernanke testifies before U.S. House, Fannie/Freddie reform hearing, AmEx analyst meeting, HP announces new mobile strategy, Moody’s briefs on sovereign debt ratings; Earnings from Cisco, Activision Blizzard, MetLife, Prudential and WholeFoods.
THURSDAY: BoE announcement, jobless claims, wholesale trade, Atlanta Fed speaks, 30-year Treasury bond auction, Treasury budget, Ebay investor day, Verizon iPhone goes on sale; before-the-bell earnings from PepsiCo, Philip Morris and Sprint; after-the-bell earnings from Kraft and Expedia.
FRIDAY: International trade, consumer sentiment, Nokia analyst day; earnings from Discovery Communications.

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