Stocks: Modest gain expected at open

u.s. stock futures, premarket
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U.S. stocks were poised for a modest advance Wednesday, following two highly volatile days of trading.

U.S. stock futures inched higher ahead of the open.

Investors will likely to welcome the breather after some bumpy, nerve-fraying sessions, driven by fears over when the Federal Reserve will begin to ease its stimulus measures. A cash crunch in China only added to the jitters.

"On balance the [People's Bank of China] is edging out the Fed as the main concern for markets at the moment," said Deutsche Bank analyst Jim Reid in research note. "It's also providing us with pretty volatile intraday markets."

Gold prices fell more than 4% to to a 34-month low, dragged down by the market rout accompanying Fed chairman Ben Bernanke's comments about potentially pulling back on bond buying later this year.

Gold mining companies Randgold Resources (GOLD) and Barrick Gold (ABX)fell 4% in premarket trading. The SPDR Gold Shares Trust (GLD) ETF also fell 4%.

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In economic news, the Commerce Department said the economy grew just 1.8% during the first quarter in its third and final reading. The prior estimate showed an annual increase of 2.4%, and economists were expecting that figure to hold, according to a consensus of economists polled by

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In corporate news, shares of Smith & Wesson (SWHC) rose after the gunmaker issued earnings and sales guidance well above forecasts.

General Mills (GIS) reported earnings in line with forecasts and weak guidance for the year.

Monsanto (MON) reported better-than-expected earnings and reiterated its outlook. Bed Bath & Beyond (BBBY) will report after the markets close.

Apollo Group (APOL), which owns for-profit University of Phoenix, was down in after-hours trading Tuesday after reporting disappointing quarterly profits.

European markets were gaining traction in afternoon trading, led by the CAC 40 in Paris, which rose nearly 2%.

Asian markets ended with mixed results. The Shanghai Composite index dipped by 0.4%. Hong Kong's Hang Seng rebounded throughout the day, closing with a nearly 2.5% gain. The Nikkei in Japan ended with a 1% loss.

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