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Stocks rally as investors monitor Fed chief's speech

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.Brendan Mcdermid / REUTERS

Updated at 10:55 a.m. ET: Stocks were higher Friday as investors stepped back into equities and examined a key speech by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The Dow Jones industrial average was lately up over 130 points.

Bernanke, addressing a symposium of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, said the Fed can do more to help the economy, but did not say the Fed is actively considering any specific plan to help the market, such as a round of bond purchases to lower long-term interest rates.

World markets have been on edge for weeks waiting to hear what Bernanke will say in Wyoming.

Trading was thin this week and lacking dramatic price moves, though investors decisively took profits on Thursday. Stocks dropped solidly, with the Nasdaq down more than 1 percent and the S&P closing below 1,400 for the first time since August 6.

Despite Friday’s gains, equities look to end the week little changed.

Markets have advanced in recent months, buoyed by expectations for more help from the Fed. Thursday's retreat could indicate that the market is now less vulnerable for a selloff, though financial market participants were cautious ahead of the Fed speech. St. Louis Fed President James Bullard told Bloomberg TV that policymakers should wait and consider more economic data before making any big policy moves.

Investors are also looking ahead to a meeting of the European Central Bank next Thursday that is expected to take pressure off highly indebted countries. Comments from European Central Bank Executive Board member Benoit Coeure rekindled expectations for central bank action.

Sectors tied to the pace of economic growth, including energy and financials, are likely to be impacted the most by Bernanke's remarks. Defensive groups like utilities or health care may have a more muted reaction.

In the week to date, the S&P has dropped 0.8 percent, though the index barely budged over the first three sessions of the week - declining just 0.05 percent. The Dow is down 1.2 percent for the week and the Nasdaq is off 0.7 percent.

Turnover has been paltry, with this week's four days so far being among the five lowest in terms of volume this year.

Economic data over the past two weeks has been a little stronger than expected, and Reuters polls show investors and economists are more skeptical that the Fed will announce a new round of bond buying at its September meeting.

In company news, Google Inc Chief Executive Larry Page and Apple CEO Tim Cook have been conducting behind-the-scenes talks about a range of intellectual property matters, including the mobile patent disputes between the companies, people familiar with the matter said.

Science Applications International Corp said late Thursday it plans to split into two independently traded companies to bid for more contracts which they cannot do now due to conflict-of-interest regulations.

Reuters contributed to this report.