World markets slip on Bernanke comments
Stocks had been trading higher until Bernanke noted in a testimony on Capitol Hill that gas prices will add to inflation while unemployment is falling faster than predicted.
The comments suggest the Fed is less likely to inject more money into the U.S. economy — such stimulus tends to push inflation higher and is used to spur economic activity and job creation.
Markets turned lower, erasing gains made after an official statistics showed an upward revision to fourth quarter U.S. economic growth figures, to an annualized rate of 3 percent — the strongest since the spring of 2010 — from the previous estimate of 2.8 percent.
In Europe, Germany's DAX closed up 0.5 percent lower at 6,856.08 while the CAC-40 in France lost almost 0.1 percent to 3,452,45. The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares ended 1.0 percent lower at 5,871.51. The euro was down 0.9 percent at $1.3340.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.2 percent at 12,982.64 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index fell by the same rate to 1,369.12.
Most of the world's leading indexes are back at levels they were trading at before last summer's massive sell-off. Stronger-than-anticipated U.S. consumer confidence figures on Tuesday also helped push the Dow to close at 13,005.12 on Tuesday. The last time the benchmark closed above 13,000 was in May 2008, four months before the fall of the Lehman Brothers investment bank and the worst of the financial crisis.
The Nasdaq index briefly cracked 3,000 on Wednesday for the first time since the meltdown in dot-com stocks more than a decade ago.
Markets have been driven largely by rising hopes for the U.S. economic recovery as Europe's debt crisis eases.
The taming of the debt crisis has been largely due to emergency liquidity loans that the European Central Bank has extended to banks.
The ECB made another €529.5 billion ($712.4 billion) in low-interest loans to banks on Wednesday in the second round of its long-term credit infusion.
The uptake was modestly higher than the €489 billion ($657.9 billion) handed out to 523 banks at a first offering on Dec. 21, and was slightly higher than market expectations. The offer of credit for three years was taken up by 800 banks, again more than anticipated.
The ECB's first round of three-year loans last December is often cited as one of the reasons why markets been so buoyant this year as they eased concerns of an imminent credit crunch in Europe.
Banks used some of the money from the first round of loans to buy government bonds. That lowered borrowing costs for hard-pressed governments struggling to maintain large amounts of debt, and eased fears of a market meltdown from Europe's troubles with too much government debt.
"The ECB's LTRO should provide further confidence that Europe's banks will have sufficient funding to weather the region's likely mild recession," said Benjamin Reitzes, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets.
Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index edged up slightly to close at 9,723.24 after the government released a report that showed factory production rising for a second straight month in January.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.5 percent to 21,680.08 and South Korea's Kospi gained 1.3 percent to 2,030.25.
But on mainland China, the benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 1 percent to 2,428.49 while the Shenzhen Composite Index fell 1.3 percent to 956.99.
Oil prices ticked lower alongside equities — benchmark oil for April delivery was down 88 cents at $105.67 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.