Stocks Face Lower Open Ahead of Bernanke

The dollar and overseas markets are flat while oil inches higher.
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Stocks were lower Wednesday as the markets braced for the first major economic policy speech of new

Federal Reserve

Chairman Ben Bernanke.

Index futures recently showed the

S&P 500

trading a point below fair value, while the Nasdaq 100 was set for a 4-point decline. The 10-year Treasury bond was up 1/32 in price to yield 4.60% -- seven basis points below the two-year note's yield -- while the dollar was roughly flat with the yen and euro.

Bernanke, who took over from Alan Greenspan on the first of this month, will lay out his opinions on the economy in testimony before Congress later Wednesday. The new Fed chairman is under pressure to establish his anti-inflation credentials early and could end up signaling that two more quarter-point rate hikes are in the pipeline.

One area where Bernanke has received something of a gift since his appointment is in energy prices, with front-month crude falling more than 10% since Jan. 31. Prices remained under control Wednesday, with the March crude contract up 15 cents at $59.72 a barrel.

Overseas markets were mostly flat Wednesday with the exception of Japan, where the Nikkei fell 1.6% overnight to 15,933. In London, the FTSE 100 was recently unchanged at 5790, while Germany's Xetra DAX was down fractionally at 5765. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was virtually unchanged overnight at 15,423.

Investors face another overflowing docket of earnings news Wednesday, with nearly 200 companies set to report including

Hewlett-Packard

(HPQ) - Get Report

,

Applied Materials

(AMAT) - Get Report

and

Biogen Idec

(BIIB) - Get Report

.

Tuesday night, teen retailer

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

said fourth-quarter earnings rose 58% from a year ago to $164.6 million, or $1.80 a share, beating estimates on a 40% jump in sales to $961.4 million. Abercrombie noted that its recent streak of blistering same-store sales growth -- 33% in January -- won't be sustainable in 2006.

Mittal Steel

(MT) - Get Report

said fourth-quarter earnings fell 58% from a year ago to $650 million, topping estimates. The company forecast higher first-quarter earnings on a roughly 10% rise in orders.