WASHINGTON – Few speeches will be followed as closely as the one to be delivered today by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who is expected to outline what steps he might still take to help spark economic activity and stave off recession.

Bernanke will give his much-anticipated address at the annual Fed retreat in the Wyoming resort town of Jackson Hole, and financial markets may soar or plunge based on what he says.

The Fed chairman is in a bind. Most economic indicators point to a decelerating economy, so he must outline what tools he has left to prevent or reverse an outright contraction.

The indicators don’t all point to recession, but they’re a mixed bag. Manufacturing indices are flashing recession signals, but retail sales and orders of durable goods — cars, refrigerators and other big-ticket items — are hardly in recession territory.

Hiring has picked up, albeit not anywhere near the pace needed to knock down the 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

And if the unlikely occurs and Bernanke announces big steps, he risks drawing the ire of prominent and vocal Republicans — including one who has gone as far as to suggest that the Fed’s previous efforts to fix the economy are treasonous. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican presidential candidate, refuses to back off his comments.

“(Bernanke’s) in a tough position,” said Vincent Reinhart, a former top economist on the Fed’s rate-setting Federal Open Market Committee and a former colleague of Bernanke’s. “A real froth has built up about this speech, probably much more so than he’d want.”

One key factor in the speech and how it’s received is a piece of data coming that very morning: The Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its revision of growth estimates for the second quarter of this year. The bureau revised first-quarter growth on July 29 down to just 0.4 percent, and said second-quarter growth was a tepid 1.3 percent.

If the second-quarter number is revised to below 1 percent, it will be a clear signal that the economy is near, or perhaps already in, another recession.