Stocks were slightly lower by early afternoon on Thursday as investors awaited a speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and one by U.S. President Barack Obama later in the day.

Indexes seesawed between modest gains and losses. Banks were the biggest decliners after sharp gains on Wednesday. The KBW Bank Index <.BKX> was down nearly 1.7 percent.

Technology stocks were the day's top gainers, supporting the Nasdaq, which outperformed other indexes. The Philadelphia semiconductor index <.SOX> was up 1.4 percent.

Bernanke was scheduled to speak on the U.S. economic outlook at 1:30 p.m. EDT. in an address before the Economic Club of Minnesota.

Obama was to speak at 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT) to lay out a $300 billion plan to include tax cuts for the middle class and businesses and new spending to repair deteriorating infrastructure.

The level of skepticism, the level of bearishness is pretty high, James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, said of Obama's speech, because considering the fiscal situation, there isn't much the president can do.

So anything remotely good out of the speech will be well-received by the market.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 11.58 points, or 0.10 percent, at 11,403.28. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 1.79 points, or 0.15 percent, at 1,196.83. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 0.68 points, or 0.03 percent, at 2,548.26.

Among bank shares, JPMorgan fell 2.2 percent to $34.06, the biggest decliner on the Dow. Bank of America Corp fell 1.7 percent and was the third largest decliner on the blue chip index.

The S&P 500 financial sector index <.GSPF> lost 1.2 percent.

On the upside, Yahoo shares rose 3.1 percent to $14.03 after a top shareholder, Third Point LLC, demanded that Yahoo overhaul its board of directors.

Shares of SanDisk Corp , a flash memory maker, jumped 4.1 percent to $39.18.

Earlier, data from the Labor Department showed weekly jobless claims rose to 414,000 from an upwardly revised 412,000 in the prior week.

Separately, the trade deficit narrowed considerably in July, a positive signal for growth in the third quarter after a sluggish first half.

(Reporting by Angela Moon; Editing by Leslie Adler)