Futures Hold Losses After Housing Starts

U.S. stock index futures held their losses Wednesday following a cautious outlook from Intel and ahead of a second day of Congressional testimony from Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke.

On the economic front, housing starts rose 6.9 percent in June to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 760,000 units, logging its fastest pace in over three years, according to the Commerce Department. Economists surveyed by Reuters had expected a reading of 745,000-unit rate.

Bernanke will be in focus again as he delivers his semiannual report to the House Financial Services Committee, a day after he testified before the Senate Banking Committee.

Bernanke offered a grim economic outlook, but repeated his pledge that the Fed “is prepared to take further action" as needed, helping stocks close higher as investors remained hopeful that the central bank may still be open to further easing.

Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said the economy is "definitely slower," but defended the Obama administration's actions and said Washington needs to take aggressive action to promote growth.

Speaking at the "Delivering Alpha" conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor, Geithner rejected the idea that the economy is headed for another recession.

Bank of America edged higher after the financial giant reported earnings that beat Wall Street's expectations. Fellow financials Goldman Sachs and Citigroup both topped estimates earlier in the week.

Honeywell International rallied after the conglomerate posted a 12-percent earnings gain, thanks to strong demand in the U.S. trumped weakness in Europe.

Intel topped earnings expectations but the chipmaker forecast weak current-quarter revenues, reinforcing fears that a wavering global economy and a lack of consumer interest are dampening personal computer sales.

Smaller semiconductor companies AMD and Applied Materials also lowered their guidance in recent weeks.

American Express , IBM, Qualcomm and Ebay are slated to report after the closing bell.

Vivus jumped after the FDA approved the drugmaker's obesity drug, making the second new diet treatment in the last month. The FDA approved Arena's Belviq a few weeks ago, granting green light to a long-term weight-loss drug for the first time in 13 years.

—By CNBC’s JeeYeon Park (Follow JeeYeon on Twitter: @JeeYeonParkCNBC)

Coming Up This Week:

WEDNESDAY: Ben Bernanke speaks, Fed's Beige Book; Earnings from AmEx, IBM, Qualcomm, Ebay, Yum Brands
THURSDAY: Jobless claims, existing home sales, Philadelphia Fed survey, leading indicators; Earnings from Morgan Stanley, Novartis, Philip Morris, Travelers, Verizon, AutoNation, BB&T, Blackstone, Nokia, Southwest Airlines, Google, Microsoft, AMD, Capital One, Chipotle, ETrade, Sandisk
FRIDAY: Fender and Kayak trading debut; Earnings from GE, Schlumberger, Xerox

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