U.S. stocks fell, but pared sharp earlier losses in another volatile session, as investors digested Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's measured remarks about the struggling economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average recently fell 85 points, or 0.8%, to 11065, after earlier dropping as much as 221 points. The Standard & Poor's 500-stock index lost 5 points, or 0.4%, to 1154, led lower by utility and telecommunication stocks, while the technology and consumer discretionary sectors rose. The technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite erased earlier losses and was up 14 points, or 0.6%, at 2433.
The morning pullback came after Bernanke said the Fed is ready to provide further support to a persistently weak economy, but didn't indicate any move was imminent despite fresh signs of anemic growth.
He didn't elaborate on the central bank's remaining tools to boost the economy. Instead, Bernanke said the Fed would extend its mid-September meeting to two days to discuss options the central bank could pursue.
Investors are unclear about what the central bank may still have in store. Some have speculated it could announce a full-fledged third bond-buying program, commonly known as quantitative easing, or QE3. But many assumed such a proclamation likely wasn't coming on Friday.
"The question is how much more can the Fed really do," said Uri Landesman, president of New York-based Platinum Partners. "I'm sure Bernanke's very reluctant to do anything major. I don't think what he said was surprising. Clearly the market was discounting chances [earlier this week] that things were so bad that he would step up and announce something significant."
Before Bernanke's comments, the Commerce Department said gross domestic product rose 1% during the April-to-June period, revised down from 1.3%, which matched Wall Street expectations. Investors were also keeping an eye on Hurricane Irene, which headed toward landfall on the East Coast.
Additionally, U.S. consumer confidence barely inched up at the end of August after plunging earlier in month, according to data released Friday.
"GDP was just another wake-up call that the economy continues to slowly deteriorate," said Ryan Detrick, senior technical strategist at Schaeffer's Investment Research.