Stocks were higher on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve signaled that it was in no rush to scale back its extensive support for the U.S. economy.

Further gains were limited despite bullish comments from General Electric as investors were reluctant to make bets ahead of comments from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is holding his first-ever press conference.

The news conference is scheduled for 2:15 p.m..

Volume was lighter than average for early afternoon in the session.

Bernanke is expected to argue the economy still needs monetary support. The Fed's policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee said in a statement it intends to complete its $600 billion bond buying program in June as scheduled.

The comments didn't have much of an impact since they were what everyone expected, said Bob Andres, chief investment officer at Merion Wealth Partners in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. Some investors are probably nervous ahead of the press conference, but I don't think they should be. The Fed doesn't really have an option but to stay the course.

General Electric led the Dow higher, rising 3.2 percent to $20.75 after the company's finance chief said the company's profit growth over the next few years will be the fastest it had seen in a decade.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 45.18 points, or 0.36 percent, at 12,640.55. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 2.23 points, or 0.17 percent, at 1,349.47. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 7.20 points, or 0.25 percent, at 2,854.74.

The S&P 500 is up 7 percent so far in 2011 and hit a three-year high in the prior session. Recent gains have come on strong corporate results, with about 75 percent of reported S&P companies beating forecasts.

That trend continued on Wednesday, with Boeing Co, Whirlpool Corp and WellPoint Inc all topping analyst consensus expectations. Boeing, a Dow component, rose 1 percent to
$76.30.

Praxair Inc, an industrial gas company, sank 3 percent to $104.80 after reporting results. The stock was the biggest loser on the S&P materials index, which was the down the most among S&P sectors, down 0.9 percent.

On Tuesday the S&P 500 broke through the 1,344 level, seen as a key resistance. However, volume remained light ahead of Bernanke's comments.

I wish we saw a little higher volume, but it just shows how much uncertainty there is going into the Fed, said Matthew Keator, partner in the Keator Group, a wealth management firm in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Telecom stocks rose after CenturyLink Inc said it would buy Savvis Inc for about $2.5 billion in cash and stock. CenturyLink fell 0.3 percent to $40.21 while Savvis rose 9 percent to $39.27.

Johnson & Johnson said it would buy Swiss medical devices maker Synthes Inc for $21.6 billion. Shares of J&J fell 0.3 percent to $64.74.

(Editing by Kenneth Barry)