U.S. stock index futures pointed to a slightly higher open on Wednesday ahead of Ben Bernanke's testimony scheduled for later in the day when his statements about the future of Fed's loose monetary policy is expected to provide further direction to the markets.
Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were up 0.12 percent, while futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 Index rose 0.28 percent. Futures on the Nasdaq Composite Index advanced 0.36 percent.
The markets eagerly await Bernanke's testimony on the country's economic outlook and recent monetary policy actions before the Joint Economic Committee at 10 a.m. EDT. Many investors will closely watch the Federal Reserve Chairman’s testimony for hints on the timeline of the proposed rollback of the Fed's bond-buying program.
The release of minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee, or FOMC, meeting and release of home sales data are also expected to influence the markets.
The Fed chairman’s stance on the future of its asset-purchase program -- known as quantitative easing, or QE -- could bring volatility to the markets. Any decision to continue the program will boost investor sentiment while hurting the dollar. A neutral stand on the issue is expected to support stocks, which have rallied to record highs this year. Any suggestion of an early exit plan could hurt market sentiment.
“If Bernanke’s stance is deemed as neutral by markets, this will signal a continuation of QE which undoubtedly, in my view, should bolster risk assets, particularly stocks. We will see outflows of money from the U.S. Treasury into equities, driving the rally to new highs for the DJIA and S&P 500 regardless of the progress in economic data and earnings,” Ishaq Siddiqi, market strategist at ETX Capital said, according to a MarketWatch report.
Investors also await the release of the minutes of the FOMC meeting held on April 30-May 1 at 14:00 EDT. Investors are likely to scour the minutes to check on the progress of the QE exit plan and hints about interest rate decisions. The minutes are expected to show that at least some members of the FOMC favor the continuation of bond buying policy.
However, the Fed Chairman’s testimony earlier in the day could overshadow the FOMC minutes, according to analysts.
On Tuesday, comments by two senior Fed officials reassured the markets that it may not cut down on its asset-buying program, fueling a rally on Wall Street.
New York Federal Reserve president William Dudley said the Fed needs to rethink its current exit strategy, although he stressed that it could involve both increasing or decreasing the pace of its bond buying program, as reported by CNNMoney. Echoing a similar sentiment, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said on Tuesday that the Fed should just carry on with its QE policy.
The National Association of Realtors' existing home sales report, which measures the change in the annualized number of existing residential homes sold during the previous month, will be released after the opening bell. Analysts estimate sales of previously owned U.S. homes will rise by 1.2 percent to an annualized rate of 4.99 million in April, up from March’s 4.92 million.
In addition, the Mortgage Bankers Association's (MBA) data on mortgage applications, which measures the change in the number of new applications for mortgages backed by the MBA, are expected on Wednesday.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 52.3 points, or 0.34 percent, to end at a new high of 15,387.58. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index edged up 2.87 points or 0.17 percent up, to 1,669.16 closing at another record high. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 5.69 points, or 0.16 percent, to end at 3,502.12.
Most European markets traded in the red on Wednesday as investors remained cautious ahead of the Fed Chairman's statement on the future of its bond-buying program. The London's FTSE 100 was down 0.23 percent, Germany's DAX-30 index lost 0.29 percent and France's CAC-40 fell 0.42 percent.
Earlier in the day, the Asian markets traded on a mixed note. Japanese stocks surged, supported by the strong rally in the Wall Street.
Nikkei advanced after the Bank of Japan raised its economic outlook, on the back of rising exports and growing demand. Earlier in the day, the central bank kept its monetary policy unchanged.
Japan’s Nikkei closed up 0.16 percent at 15,627.26, South Korea's KOSPI surged 0.64 percent to 1,993.83. China's Shanghai Composite Index dropped 0.12 percent to 2,302.40. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index fell 0.45 percent to end at 23,261.08.