The S&P 500 and the Dow industrials were poised to rise on Wednesday on a report the Federal Reserve was moving closer toward further stimulus for the sluggish economy, but a revenue miss at Apple was set to cap gains and drag on the Nasdaq.
Apple Inc <AAPL.O> results fell short of Wall Street's expectations as the European economy sagged and consumers held off buying its flagship iPhone ahead of a new version expected in the fall. Shares dropped 4.7 percent in premarket trading.
Federal Reserve officials are moving closer to taking more steps to aid the flagging economy, The Wall Street Journal reported late on Tuesday, helping to lift stocks off their lows of the day. Expectations the Fed will act, maybe as early as its rate-setting meeting next week, have been growing. Tuesday's story, while nothing new, helped cement that view.
"The report that the Fed is gearing up its ammo to launch some type of incremental asset purchases ... is certainly putting a bid into the markets," said Marl Luschini, chief investment strategist at Janney Montgomery Scott in Philadelphia. "After three consecutive days of triple digit declines you'd expect to see a bounce but we'll see if it holds."
There were also some positive corporate earnings. Caterpillar Inc's <CAT.N> quarterly profit easily beat Wall Street's expectations, helped in part by growing sales of mining equipment, and the world's largest maker of construction machines raised its 2012 forecast. The shares rose 4.1 percent to $84.77.
S&P 500 futures rose 9.5 points and were above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 131 points and Nasdaq 100 futures were off 1.25 points.
Wall Street has sold off for three straight days on fears Spain may need a bailout and on signs that the global economy is starting to slow down. Despite the pessimism, the S&P 500 is up 6.4 percent this year and is one of the best performing broad stock indexes in the world.
The S&P 500 is currently testing support at its 50-day moving average at 1,332.80. The index broke through that level on Tuesday but rebounded above it after the Wall Street Journal's story that the Fed was likely to provide more stimulus.
"The willingness of the Fed to continue to keep rates at a very low point does put a bottom to the stock market and it's that bottom that makes people confident, particularly traders, to continue to come in on these selloffs because they feel there isn't much lower to go," said Rick Meckler, president of investment firm LibertyView Capital Management in New York.
Boeing Co <BA.N> reported a greater-than-expected increase in second-quarter profit and raised its full-year earnings forecast on Wednesday as rising airplane deliveries offset higher pension costs. The shares gained 2.8 percent to $74.18
Ford Motor Co <F.N> reported a better-than-expected second-quarter profit on Wednesday, but roughly doubled its forecast for losses in Europe, where a deepening economic crisis pushed industry auto sales to their lowest level in nearly 20 years. The shares gained 1.8 percent to $9.22.
European shares inched up after early losses on Wednesday as European Central Bank Governing Council member Ewald Nowotny said there were arguments for giving Europe's permanent rescue fund a banking license.