Wall Street little changed ahead of Bernanke testimony

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Wall Street opened little changed as investors awaited a second round of testimony in Congress by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for clarity on the longevity of the Fed's economic stimulus program.

Calming some jitters over the euro zone, Italian debt prices and European stocks rose on Wednesday after Italy sold the maximum amount of bonds it planned to offer in a debt auction though borrowing costs soared.

Bernanke will make his second appearance before the Financial Services Committee at 10:00 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).

"The market got what it wanted yesterday from the Fed, so, as long as (Bernanke) doesn't say anything new, the market is likely to remain as status quo," said Joe Saluzzi, co- of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, New Jersey.

A day earlier, Bernanke strongly defended the Fed's monetary stimulus efforts before Congress, easing financial market worries over an early retreat from the Fed's bond buying program, which had been triggered by minutes of the Fed's January meeting released a week ago.

His remarks, along with data showing sales of new homes hit a 4 1/2-year high, helped U.S. stocks rebound Tuesday from their worst decline since November.

Despite the bounce, the S&P 500 was unable to move back above 1,500, a closely watched level that had been technical support until recently, but may now prove a resistance point.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> gained 1.76 points, or 0.01 percent, to 13,901.89. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> dropped 0.36 points, or 0.02 percent, to 1,496.58. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> gained 0.70 points, or 0.02 percent, to 3,130.34.

The benchmark S&P 500, up 6 percent for the year, was within reach of record highs a week ago, before the minutes from the Fed's January meeting were released. Since then, the index has shed 1 percent as the minutes raised questions about whether the Fed may slow or halt its economy-stimulating measures soon.

Economic data was in focus with homes data due out at 10:00 a.m. ET (1500 GMT).

Earlier, separate data showed non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, jumped 6.3 percent, the biggest gain since December 2011. The market's reaction was muted.

In earnings news, discount retailer Target Corp appeared poised for a solid showing in the first quarter and forecast a higher profit for the full year after a weak performance in the key holiday season. The stock was off 3.3 percent at $61.92 in early trading.

Dollar Tree Inc reported a higher quarterly profit as shoppers spent more and the chain controlled costs. The stock jumped 10 percent to $45.00.

Shares of Boyd Gaming jumped 3.8 percent to $6.75 after New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a revised online gaming bill.

In Europe, shares rose, steadying after the previous session's sharp losses, though jitters over the euro zone kept a lid on gains.

Italy's 10-year debt costs rose more than half a percentage point at the first longer-term auction since an inconclusive parliamentary election, although they remained below the psychologically important level of 5 percent.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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