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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, August 22, 2012.  (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, August 22, 2012. 

(BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

Premarket: U.S. futures drop amid low volume Add to ...

U.S. stock index futures fell on Thursday, tracking a retreat in overseas shares, amid scant domestic catalysts to drive trading ahead of Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech Friday at a symposium of central bankers.

The market has recorded three of the four lowest-turnover full sessions of 2012 this week. The low volume reflects investors’ reluctance to place big bets before Bernanke’s speech, and could weigh on profits at exchanges and brokers.

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Equity price movements have been muted as well, with the S&P hardly moving over the past three days. It hasn’t closed with a 1 per cent move in either direction since Aug. 3.

Bernanke addresses a conference of central bankers in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, on Friday, where he could announce new measures to boost growth. He is expected to stoke expectations for a third round of quantitative easing, though he may not detail the timing of the Fed’s action.

European shares fell 0.4 per cent with investors reluctant to increase their exposure to riskier assets ahead of the Fed meeting. Japanese stocks fell almost 1 per cent to a two-week closing low.

S&P 500 futures fell 5.2 points and were below fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures fell 41 points and Nasdaq 100 futures lost 10.25 points.

The index has been pinned in a fairly tight range over the last three weeks, finding support at 1,400 while also unable to convincingly pierce the April high of 1,422.38, which has acted as a resistance point.

Investors are also looking ahead to the latest economic data, including jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET (1230 GMT), which are seen dropping by 2,000 to 370,000 in the latest week. A read on personal income and consumption, along with PCE data, is also on tap; all three are for July and are seen rising slightly.

In company news, Citigroup Inc agreed to pay $590-million (U.S.) to settle a shareholder lawsuit accusing it of hiding tens of billions of dollars of toxic mortgage assets. Shares edged 0.7 per cent lower in premarket trading.

Johnson & Johnson agreed to a deal where it will get a 10.7 per cent equity stake in Denmark’s Genmab in exchange for giving Genmab the rights to a cancer agent.

U.S. stocks edged up just 0.1 per cent Wednesday in the lightest trading of the year as investors held back from major trading decisions before Bernanke’s speech.

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