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Wall Street opens slightly higher after GDP report

Stocks opened with slight gains on Wednesday, in a third day of likely limited action as investors shrugged off the latest data and looked ahead to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech on Friday for trading incentives.

Daily volume so far this week has been low even for a seasonally slow period, with trading levels about 30 percent below the year-to-date average, an indication of how market participants are reluctant to make any major investment moves ahead of the Fed speech.

Gross domestic product grew 1.7 percent in the second quarter, a rate that was expected though revised up from last month's 1.5 percent estimate. Futures were little impacted by the data.

Bernanke addresses a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Friday, and could announce new measures to boost growth. He is expected to stoke expectations for a third round of quantitative easing, though he may not detail the timing of such a measure.

In the absence of clarity on those issues, analysts expect light trading to continue. The S&P dipped over the past two sessions, but the decline was less than 0.1 percent on both days. It hasn't closed with a 1 percent move in either direction since August 3.

"Investors have squared their positions and are taking no risk; it's a bit of a snooze fest until Bernanke," said Chris Bertelsen, chief investment officer of Global Financial Private Capital in Sarasota, Florida.

The S&P 500 has been pinned in a fairly tight range over the last three weeks, finding support at 1,400 while also unable to convincingly pierce the April high of 1,422.38, which has acted as a resistance point. The index has been unable to muster a move of at least 1 percent in either direction since August 3.

In company news, a U.S. judge set a December 6 court date to hear Apple Inc's request for a permanent injunction against Samsung Electronics' smartphones, which could delay the potential impact of Apple's crushing legal victory.

"Whenever this gets resolved, royalties could mean another huge revenue stream for Apple," said Bertelsen, who helps oversee $1.5 billion in assets.

WellPoint Inc Chief Executive Angela Braly abruptly stepped down late Tuesday following growing investor dissatisfaction with the health insurer's financial performance. Shares rose 4.5 percent to $60 in premarket trading.

H.J. Heinz Co rose 1.3 percent to $58.17 in light premarket trading after reporting its first-quarter results and said it was on track to meet its full-year forecast.

Joy Global Inc fell 1.5 percent to $52.29 before the bell after cutting its profit outlook for a second time this year, citing slowing growth in Asia and Europe.

U.S. stocks ended little changed Tuesday after mixed economic data on consumer confidence and home prices gave investors little reason to shift their focus from Bernanke's upcoming speech.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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