Stocks drift ahead of Bernanke, Obama speeches

NEW YORK (AP) ? Stocks drifted between small gains and losses Thursday ahead of speeches on the economy by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and President Barack Obama that will be closely watched on Wall Street.

Bernanke will detail his outlook for the economy in a speech beginning at 1:30 p.m. EST. Some investors are anticipating that the Fed will soon take additional steps to stimulate the economy at its two-day meeting that begins Sept. 21.

President Obama will lay out his jobs plan at a joint session of Congress tonight. He is expected to announce a $300 billion package that includes tax cuts, additional state aid and spending on infrastructure.

Investors received mixed economic data before the market opened. First-time applications for unemployment benefits rose last week to 414,000. Economists had expected 405,000. The prior week’s estimate of new claims was also revised higher.

The weekly report on unemployment applications is an important economic signal for investors. Rising claims can add to concerns that the job market is stalled and the U.S. economy is headed for another recession. Applications need to fall below 375,000 to indicate sustainable job growth. Last week the government reported there was zero job growth in the U.S. economy in August.

Not all of the economic news Thursday was negative. American exports of cars, airplanes and other goods reached an all-time high in July, the Commerce Department reported. Economists said the jump in exports suggest future growth in the U.S. economy.

“The market is sitting around and trying to piece it all together, “said Rob Stein, the founder and global head of asset management at Astor Asset Management. “For all the volatility that we’ve had recently, the market is going nowhere.”

At noon, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 2 points, or less than 0.1 percent, to 11,415. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index fell 2, or 0.1 percent, to 1,197. The Nasdaq composite rose 3, or 0.1 percent, to 2,552.

Microsoft Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc. were the biggest gainers in the Dow, rising 2 percent. JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Boeing Co. fell the most, 2.5 percent.