Futures Lower Ahead Of Reports On Jobs, Spending

CHRISTINA REXRODE

NEW YORK (AP) â¿¿ The late-summer lull is about to end.

Stocks fell Thursday, with investors too worried about high gas prices and stagnant employment to be impressed by higher consumer spending.

But trading volume was light, the market's direction was steady, and there wasn't much in the way of major economic news.

That could all change Friday. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is scheduled to speak at 10 a.m. EDT, and investors will be listening closely for his opinion on the economy and whether the Fed will take more action to try to prop it up.

Scott Freeze, president of Street One Financial in Huntingdon Valley, Pa., had the feeling that he was experiencing the calm before the storm. He went golfing Thursday morning with clients, figuring there wouldn't be many more chances to leave the office.

Many of his employees and clients planned to come to work Friday morning, stick around to see what Bernanke says, and then leave early for the long weekend if it's nothing of consequence.

"There's so little going on, it's all wait and see before Bernanke's speech," Freeze said. "I'm sure next week will be a much different scenario."

Some thought Bernanke's speech, for all the hype, would end up being a non-event. The statements from Fed officials are sometimes too ambiguous to really guide the market. And there's a lot of doubt that the Fed can do anything for the economy anyway.

"Some people hang on every word, they try to figure out what kind of briefcase he's carrying," said John Lekas, senior portfolio manager at Leader Capital in Portland, Ore. "I think that's a waste of time. It doesn't matter that much."

For much of August, with many traders on vacation and a dearth of major economic news, the market has lumbered more than galloped. On Thursday, about 2.4 billion shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The average for the year so far is about 3.7 billion.

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