Stocks: Investors step back

sp 500 futures 848
Click on chart for more premarket data

After two wild days on Wall Street, investors appear to be taking a breather on Wednesday.

U.S. stock futures edged up slightly ahead of the opening bell, showing little reaction to a weak manufacturing report.

Italy continues to be a worry, as concern about political gridlock caused a big sell-off in global markets earlier this week. But Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's comments and a pair of solid economic reports on Tuesday soothed those worries, and stocks staged a big rebound.

Heading into Wednesday, investors were focused on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, showing that orders for durable goods orders dropped $11.8 billion, or 5.2%, in January. This was a steeper decline than the 3.5% decrease projected by economists surveyed by

Boeing (BA)'s Dreamliner issues and the decline of defense spending appear to have played a role in the drop. Excluding transportation, new orders would have increased 1.9%. Excluding defense, new orders would have decreased 0.4%.

Also on Wednesday, Bernanke will be back on Capitol Hill to give testimony before the House Financial Services Committee.

Marc Chandler of Brown Brothers Harriman said that Bernanke's comments will dominate investors' attention.

"Even though his prepared remarks will be identical to yesterday's, the Q&A will be different," said Chandler. "The looming sequester and the new risks from Europe give Bernanke additional fodder for his defense of the Fed's long-term asset purchases."

Related: The myth of the Great Rotation

Meanwhile, a bond auction in Italy drew solid demand for €6.5 billion worth of medium and long-term debt. That helped push European markets higher.

In the U.S., investors are likely to be focused on Apple's (APPL) annual shareholders meeting.

Taxes crush small businesses in Italy
Taxes crush small businesses in Italy

Firms including retailerTJX (TJX) are scheduled to report quarterly results in the morning, while Sturm Ruger (RGR), Groupon (GRPN) and J.C. Penney (JCP) are up after the bell.

Related: Fear & Greed Index edging toward neutral

Shares of Priceline (PCLN) were up more than 4% in premarket trading after the online travel site beat profit forecasts.

First Solar (FSLR) shares sank sharply in premarket trading after the renewable energy firm missed sales forecasts.

Related: Defense stocks in the crosshairs

Asian markets ended mixed. Japan's Nikkei lost 1.3%, while the Shanghai Composite added 0.9% and Hong Kong's Hang Seng increased 0.2%.

CNNMoney Sponsors