Investors await a first-ever press conference by the Federal Reserve chief

By CNNMoney staffApril 27, 2011: 8:53 AM ET

 

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- U.S. stocks were headed for early gains Wednesday, as investors sort through the latest corporate results, ahead of a highly anticipated press conference at the Federal Reserve.

Dow Jones industrial average (INDU), S&P 500 (SPX) and Nasdaq (COMP) futures were higher ahead of the opening bell. Futures measure current index values against perceived future performance.

U.S. stocks finished at their highest levels in three years Tuesday, as investors cheered another batch of solid earnings and a better-than-expected report on consumer confidence.

Investors will turn their attention to tight-lipped Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's first of what will become four regular press conferences a year.

In the past, Bernanke has rarely taken journalists' questions publicly. The speech and question-and-answer session will follow the Fed's two-day meeting on monetary policy.

While the Fed's Open Market Committee is not expected to raise interest rates, investors are hoping to get some sense of how soon the central bank could move to tighten its easy money stance.

"The press conference is really the key, and will set the tone in terms of the short and medium-term duration of interest rates," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at Avalon Partners. "I think the market will trade in a tight range until we get the FOMC and the press conference out of the way."

Meanwhile, the market is also getting a boost from $21 billion merger in the health care sector, while results from a handful of big companies came in mixed. But the tone was tempered by a warning from S&P that Japan could be at risk for a downgrade.