Futures Point to Rebound; Bernanke in Focus

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U.S. stock-index futures suggested Wall Street may rebound from steep losses taken in the last session as a highly-awaited speech from Fed chief Ben Bernanke looms.

Today's Markets

As of 8:00 a.m. ET, Dow Jones Industrial Average futures climbed 79 points to 13061, S&P 500 futures jumped 8.8 points to 1406 and Nasdaq 100 futures gained 18.5 points to 2772.

The world economy has come squarely into focus in recent days. Friday is set to be particularly busy on that front.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke will make an address at the central bank's economic symposium at 10:00 a.m. ET. Market participants will be looking for any hints that the Fed could be ready to unleash more easing measures, including another large-scale asset purchase program. The Fed is currently engaged in a plan by which it is extending the maturity of its balance sheet without increasing its size, but has repeatedly said it stands ready to do more.

Indeed, in minutes released last week it was revealed the Fed governors discussed what means the central bank can take to boost the slowly growing economy. Among the items discussed was the potential of buying either Treasury or mortgage-backed assets. Bernanke used the Jackson Hole platform in 2010 to lay out the plans for QE 2, the central bank's last asset-purchase program.

Expectations among analysts were lukewarm going into the speech.

"While we doubt that Mr. Bernanke will rule out any further easing, we see several reasons to believe he will not suggest that any such easing is imminent," analysts at Nomura wrote in a note to clients. They added that unless Bernanke says something "pretty major" market participants will be hesitant to make big trades until the European Central Bank meeting set for next week.

In a sign of light trading has been of late, only 2.4 billion shares traded hands on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday. It was the lightest full trading day of the year, and the twelfth time this month volume came in below 3 billion shares.

Traders will also get several pieces of important economic data. The expansion in the manufacturing sector in the Midwest is forecast to have cooled down slightly in August from the month before, economists said ahead of the 9:45 a.m. ET report from the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago.

Consumer sentiment is forecast to have held steady in late August from earlier in the month, economists said ahead of the 9:55 a.m. ET report from Reuters/University of Michigan. Later in the morning, traders will get data on factory orders from the month of July.

The broad markets are looking to close out the month on a high note. The S&P 500 is up 1.5% and the Nasdaq is 3.7% to the upside. The narrower Dow, however, is essentially flat for the month.

Commodities markets were little changed. The benchmark crude oil contract in New York rose 61 cents, or 0.64%, to $95.24 a barrel. Wholesale New York Harbor gasoline climbed 0.15% to $3.087 a gallon.

In metals, gold gained $4.80, or 0.28%, $1,662 a troy ounce.

Foreign Markets

The Euro Stoxx 50 rallied 1.4% to 2438, the English FTSE 100 gained 0.53% to 5750 and the German DAX jumped 1.3% to 6987.

In Asia, the Japanese Nikkei 225 sold off by 1.6% to 8840 and the Chinese Hang Seng dipped 0.36% to 19483.