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Stocks Bounce on Bernanke But Finish Week Lower

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- U.S. stocks finished with modest gains on Friday after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke made clear he's open to another round of quantitative easing in remarks at the global economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

Stocks wavered a bit in the immediate wake of Bernanke's speech, briefly curbed gains, then pushed to new session highs before gradually sliding back ahead of the long Labor Day weekend. The Fed chairman's words prompted more dramatic responses in other asset classes as both bonds and gold spiked higher and the U.S. dollar was weak.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed up 90 points, or 0.69%, at 13,091. The blue-chip index ranged roughly 150 points on the day, peaking at 13,152. It booked a 0.63% gain for August, adding a little more than 82 points, but finished down 0.51% for the week. Year-to-date, the Dow is up 7.2%.

Twenty-eight of the Dow's 30 components were higher with Merck (MRK) and AT&T (T) the only laggards.

The biggest percentage gainers were Alcoa (AA), American Express (AXP), and Intel (INTC).

The S&P 500 added a little more than 7 points, or 0.51%, to close at 1406.58. The benchmark index rose for a third consecutive month, adding more than 27 points, or roughly 2%, and hitting a multi-year high of 1426.68 in intraday action on Aug. 21. For the week, it lost 0.32%.

So far in 2012, the S&P 500 has risen 11.9% vs. a flat performance in 2011.

The Nasdaq surged more than 18 points, or 0.60%, at 3067. The tech-heavy index gained 4.3% in August and is now up 17.7% in 2012. For the week, it dipped 3 points.

Bernanke, as expected, struck a very dovish tone, calling the "stagnation" of the labor market "a very grave concern" and pledging the central bank "will provide additional policy accommodation as needed to promote a stronger economic recovery and sustained improvement in labor market conditions in a context of price stability."

Bernanke also said current economic conditions, "obviously far from satisfactory." The view of research firm Capital Economics was that the chairman has "paved the way" for QE3 to be announced at the Fed's next policy meeting on Sept. 12-13.

"In his speech at Jackson Hole, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has taken a further step along the path to more policy stimulus, most likely a third round of asset purchases (QE3) to be announced at the mid-September FOMC meeting," wrote Paul Dales, the firm's chief U.S. economist. "The speech comes across as a staunch defence of the effectiveness of unconventional monetary policy. Bernanke does discuss the potential costs of unconventional tools, but he concludes that these 'appear manageable, implying that we should not rule out the further use of such policies if economic conditions warrant.'"

David Rodriguez, quantitative strategist at DailyFX, said the speech "added little to recent Fed rhetoric, as the central bank remains in 'wait and see' mode on the next developments out of U.S. economic data."

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