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Markets struggled to find a definite course in the absence of news yesterday and investors struggled to decide on their course of action. Eventually, volumes remained at the lowest level for the year. However, while the blue-chip index and S&P 500 slipped marginally, Nasdaq managed to finish in the green riding on Apple’s gains. A key legal advantage for the iPhone maker led the share to a new high yesterday. Investors also continued to maintain a cautious stance, as they await Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech on Friday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) dropped 0.3% to close the day at 13,124.67. The Standard & Poor 500 (S&P 500) slipped a meager 0.69 point or 0.05% to finish yesterday’s trading session at 1,410.44. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index was the only gainer, edging up 0.1% to end at 3,073.19. The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) jumped 7.7% to settle at 16.35. Consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were roughly 4.46 billion shares, significantly lower than the year-to-date average of 6.6 billion shares. A Bloomberg report noted that volumes were at their lowest since 2008 after leaving out the days around holidays. Declining stocks edged past the advancers on the NYSE; as for 50% stocks that declined, 46% stocks closed higher.

The lack of major developments kept investors away from the Street. Moreover, they are also waiting for concrete action from the central banks of key economies including the U.S. Europe and even China. Over the last couple of weeks, possibilities of fresh economic stimulus have see-sawed in Europe as well as in the U.S. Meanwhile there were indications that the European Central Bank (ECB) will buy back Italian and Spanish bonds. Recent reports have also suggested that the ECB is considering a ‘yield band target’ for the bond purchase plan. However, the plan has hit some roadblocks with the German central bank, Bundesbank, opposing ECB’s idea to go ahead with bond purchases.

Even developments regarding the economic stimulus plan in U.S. have sent out mixed signals over the past few days. While the minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) meet suggested that “many members” were in favor of additional measures, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard created uncertainty about additional economic stimulus arriving anytime soon saying the present economic situation does not warrant the need for QE3.

Thus, investors have gone into a shell and are waiting for the outcome of the Federal Reserve’s annual meeting scheduled for the end of this week at Jackson Hole. The central bank chairman’s speech at the annual convention is a key one. Investors’ eyes are now fixed on this meet. Thus, they have currently refrained from betting big bucks.

The only headline of any importance came from tech-bellwether Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL). A nine member jury of the U.S. District Court in San Jose, California, ruled in favor of Apple in a patent-related case against its rival Samsung. The court ruled that Samsung had infringed upon six of Apple’s patents and ordered Samsung to pay $1.05 billion to Apple. Additionally, all the counter claims by Samsung were rejected. This marks a major advantage for Apple and it will help the iPhone maker limit the growth of its rival as well as Google Inc.’s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating systems. While Apple’s shares jumped 1.9% and had also touched an all time high of $680.87, shares of Google dropped 1.4%.

Apple is the biggest component of the Nasdaq and any movement in the stock has a significant impact on Nasdaq’s direction. Thus, gains made by Apple lifted Nasdaq higher. Even the technology sector finished in the green and the Technology Select Sector SPDR (XLK) was up 0.1%. However, key technology stocks including Hewlett-Packard Company (NYSE:HPQ), Dell Inc. (NASDAQ:DELL), International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE:IBM), Intel Corporation (NASDAQ:INTC), NVIDIA Corporation (NASDAQ:NVDA) dropped 2.1%, 1.2%, 1.1%, 0.3% and 1.7%, respectively.

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