You know it's a sleepy day on Wall Street when investors eagerly tuned into a speech at a Rotary Club in Paducah, Kentucky. Population: 25,000.
U.S. stocks closed slightly lower Wednesday, as investors weighed remarks from St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, who delivered two speeches in Paducah this afternoon.
Bullard is a voting member on the Federal Reserve's policy-making committee, and he has recently said he fears inflation is too low.
Investors are taking a magnifying glass to all Fed speeches lately for hints of when it will start to slow its bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing or QE for short.
The Fed has been purchasing $85 billion in Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities each month. Many believe the so-called "tapering" of QE will begin at the Fed's next meeting in September, but Bullard said Wednesday that he would like to see more economic data before coming to a decision.
What's moving: Looking at individual stocks, Apple (shares bucked Wednesday's downward trend, rising above $500 for the first time since January, but pulled back to close at $498.50. )
The stock has been rallying for a second day on the news that activist investor Carl Icahn has taken a "large" position in the company. Icahn revealed his investment in Apple in a pair of tweets Tuesday afternoon, noting he believes the company is "extremely undervalued."
Apple was the top-trending ticker on StockTwits, as traders had plenty to say about Icahn's investment.
gator347: $AAPL lol stealing your lunch money and taking out stops
Meanwhile, Macy's ( shares fell 4%, after the retailer reported weaker-than-expected sales in the second quarter. The company sent investors a mixed signal, noting upcoming back-to-school sales could be strong, while simultaneously cutting its outlook for the year overall. )
The report sparked pessimism about other retailers, with traders noting concerns about J.C. Penney (, which is scheduled to report its second quarter earnings on August 20. )
bradloncar: What hope does $JCP have if $M had a lukewarm quarter.
Best Buy ( is staging the ) meteoric comeback J.C. Penney shareholders can only hope for at this point. Shares rose nearly 3% Wednesday after an analyst upgraded the stock, and overall Best Buy is up nearly 170% since the beginning of the year. Best Buy hasn't delivered a quarterly profit in a year, but investors are hopeful that CEO Hubert Joly, who took the helm last fall, will be successful with his "Renew Blue" plan.
Shortly after the closing bell, Cisco Systems ( reported quarterly earnings that narrowly beat estimates, but shares fell 3% in after-hours trading. Cisco's stock has been on a tear this year, rising nearly 35%. So investors may have been expecting the company to beat forecasts by a wider margin. )
Across the pond, investors awoke to encouraging news that Europe's recession is over. Gross domestic product across the 17-nation eurozone grew by 0.3% in the second quarter, led by a rebound in the region's two biggest economies, Germany and France.