U.S. stock market futures were drifting Wednesday on concerns the hangover from Federal Reserve's Chairman Ben Bernanke's hawkish interest-rate comments may linger, with seemingly little else on the economic or corporate news front to capture markets' attention.
Dow Jones futures were recently down 9 points, S&P 500 futures rose 0.4 of a point, and Nasdaq futures inched up a point.
The Dow industrials ended 46 points lower Tuesday, bringing two-day losses to nearly 250 points after Bernanke said recent core inflation readings were at or above the upper end of a range consistent with price stability.
That's led to speculation that the Fed at its June meeting will raise rates for the seventeenth straight time, rather than hold its key interest rate at 5 percent. Markets also are uncertain how high the Fed will go in its rates campaign after the June meeting.
Francois Trahan, an analyst at Bear Stearns, added that the global economic picture is also undermining stocks. As far as June 5 is concerned, a fair assessment of the market behavior over the past few weeks will quickly show that the major indices were already substantially off long before the Fed chairman's comments hit the tape, Trahan said. The bottom line is that the downturn in equity markets over the past month has occurred coincident with a slowdown in economic prospects.
Deutsche Bank analysts evidently feel the same way, downgrading a number of chemical companies, including DuPont and Dow Chemical, on concerns over a slowing economy.
Overseas, the Nikkei 225 ended at a six-month low, while European stock markets wobbled between positive and negative territory.
The euro and the yen were in a tight trading range against the U.S. dollar, while crude-oil futures weakened 34 cents at $72.16.
Weekly energy supplies data is due at 10:30 a.m. EDT, with expectations that gasoline inventories will rise and crude oil inventories will fall.
Also on the oil front, Veritas DGC, the geophysical services firm, late Tuesday posted a rise in net income and revenue above consensus forecasts.
Tax audit preparer H&R Block is among the firms due to report results Wednesday.
Novartis agreed to buy a U.K. maker of anti-infectives for over $500 million, and European pharmaceutical rival GlaxoSmithKline agreed to a licensing deal for arthritis drugs.
Arcelor finally agreed to hold face-to-face talks with Mittal Steel, the world's leading steelmaker, which has launched a hostile bid for the Luxembourg firm. Arcelor said it has a number of questions over Mittal's business plan.