NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ Investors didn't hear what they wanted from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.
An early rally in stocks faded in the afternoon Thursday after Bernanke signaled no immediate further steps from the Fed to stoke economic growth in the United States, which has shown signs of faltering.
A report that Americans cut back sharply on their credit card purchases in April, suggesting consumers were losing confidence in the economy, also took some steam out of the market.
Bank stocks also lost ground late in the day after the Fed said it wants U.S. banks to set aside more money to cushion against unexpected losses, a key step in preventing another financial crisis.
The Dow Jones industrial average had been up as much as 140 points but closed up 46.17 points, or 0.3 percent, at 12,460.96.
"The market is addicted to easy money, and Bernanke has the job of not pulling the trigger unless the situation needs stabilizing," said Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist at the investment company Channel Capital Research.
Bernanke told a joint economic committee in Congress that the Fed was ready to act if the economy needs it, but he did not spell out any additional steps on the way.
The Fed chairman said the central bank was "prepared to take action as needed to protect the U.S. financial system and economy in the event that financial stresses escalate."
Weaker hiring in May and comments by a Fed regional president had led some investors to hope that the Fed might try something new. The stock market enjoyed its biggest rally of the year on Wednesday.
On Thursday, the early rally in stocks came after China cut its benchmark lending rate for the first time in nearly four years, adding to efforts to reverse a sharp slowdown in economic growth there.