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The markets edged up on Wednesday as Wall Street remained fixated on commentary from Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and digested data on the housing market.
As of 3:15 p.m. ET, the Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed 6.8 points, or 0.04%, to 15458, the S&P 500 gained 3.3 points, or 0.2%, to 1680 and the Nasdaq Composite advanced 5.7 points, or 0.16%, to 3604.
The S&P 500 snapped an eight-day winning streak on Tuesday, receding from record highs amid hawkish commentary from a key Federal Reserve official. The focus was expected to remain squarely on the central bank Wednesday.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said in prepared remarks to Congress, the central bank’s plans to begin trimming down its bond buying are not "on a preset course" and QE will continue until there is "substantial improvement" in the labor market.
The U.S. economy is growing at a "modest to moderate" pace across the Federal Reserve’s 12 districts, the central bank said in its anecdotal Beige Book report. Meanwhile, hiring activity was "measured," and price pressure remained in check.
Also on the economic front, the Commerce Department reported housing starts fell 9.9% in June to an annual rate of 836,000 units, widely missing expectations of 959,000. It was also the lowest reading since August 2012. Housing permits fell 7.5% to an annual rate of 911,000 units, missing expectations of 1 million.
In corporate news, Bank of America (BAC) revealed second-quarter results that beat analysts' expectations on the top and bottom lines, sending shares of the No. 2 U.S. bank by assets rising. Yahoo! (YHOO) posted mixed results after the bell on Tuesday. Earnings from American Express (AXP), IBM (IBM), Intel (INTC) and eBay (EBAY) are due out after the closing bell.
Meanwhile, oil prices dipped 7 cents, or 0.06%, to $105.94 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline sold off by 1.2% to $3.096 a gallon. In metals, gold slumped $4.40, or 0.34%, to $1,288 a troy ounce.
The Euro Stoxx 50 rose 0.1% to 2682, the English FTSE 100 rose 0.1% to 6563 and the German DAX gained 0.41% to 8235.
In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 climbed 0.11% to 14615 and the Chinese Hang Seng tilted higher by 0.28% to 21372.