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Stocks up on reassurance from Bernanke

Stocks edged up Wednesday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the U.S. central bank had no firm timetable for cutting back on its bond purchases. Higher earnings for several major companies also helped stocks.

By Steve RothwellAP Markets Writer / July 17, 2013

Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday. Stocks rose on soothing words from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Brendan McDermid/Reuters

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New York

Some soothing words from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke pushed the stock market to slender gains on Wednesday. Higher earnings for several major companies also helped.

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Bernanke said that the U.S. central bank had no firm timetable for cutting back on its bond purchases. The Fed would consider reducing its stimulus program if the economy improves, but Bernanke emphasized in his testimony to Congress that the reductions were "by no means on a preset course."

The central bank is currently buying $85 billion of bonds a month to keep interest rates low and encourage borrowing. Concerns that the Fed was poised to start easing back on that stimulus before the economy had recovered sufficiently caused the stock market to pull back in June.

The concern has been that "the Fed was going to dial the (stimulus) down to zero regardless how the economy was doing," said Phil Orlando, chief market strategist at Federated Investors. "I don't think that's the case at all...the Fed is going to evaluate the economic landscape," before it cuts its stimulus, Orlando said.

The Standard & Poor's 500 index climbed 4.65 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,680.91. The Nasdaq composite rose 11.50 points, or 0.3 percent, to 3,610.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 18.67 points, or 0.1 percent, to 15,470.52.

The Dow was held back by American Express and Caterpillar. The credit card company's stock slumped $1.47, or 1.9 percent, to $76.80 after European regulators proposed to cap the lucrative processing fees the card company imposes.

Caterpillar fell $1.50, or 1.7 percent, to $86.67 after prominent short-seller Jim Chanos said he was shorting the stock because it was exposed to a slump in the mining industry. In a presentation at the 'Delivering Alpha' conference, broadcast by CNBC, Chanos said Caterpillar was "tied to the wrong products, at the wrong time."

Bernanke's comments had a stronger impact on the Treasury market than on the stock market.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.49 percent from 2.53 percent late Tuesday as investors bought U.S. government bonds. The yield has been declining since July 5, when it surged to 2.74 percent after the government reported that hiring was strong in June.

If Treasury yields climb too fast, it worries stock investors because of the impact that rising interest rates have on the wider economy. For example, higher mortgage rates, which are linked to Treasury yields, would slow demand for homes.

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