NEW YORK – Investors didn’t hear what they wanted from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke.

An early rally in stocks faded in the afternoon Thursday after Bernanke signaled no immediate further steps from the Fed to stoke economic growth in the United States, which has shown signs of faltering.

A report that Americans cut back sharply on their credit card purchases in April, suggesting consumers were losing confidence in the economy, also took some steam out of the market.

Bank stocks also lost ground late in the day after the Fed said it wants U.S. banks to set aside more money to cushion against unexpected losses, a key step in preventing another crisis.

The Dow Jones industrial average had been up as much as 140 points but closed up 46.17 points, or 0.3 percent, at 12,460.96.

“The market is addicted to easy money, and Bernanke has the job of not pulling the trigger unless the situation needs stabilizing,” said Doug Roberts, chief investment strategist at the investment company Channel Capital Research.

Weaker hiring in May and comments by a Fed regional president had led some investors to hope that the Fed might try something new. The stock market enjoyed its biggest rally of the year on Wednesday.

On Thursday, the early rally in stocks came after China cut its benchmark lending rate for the first time in nearly four years, adding to efforts to reverse a sharp slowdown in growth.

“China is the world’s economic locomotive at the moment, and it can’t afford to slow down at a time when other major economies are in precarious positions,” said Matthew Kaufler, portfolio manager at Federated Investors.

The broader stock market drifted lower during the afternoon as well. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index ended down 0.14 point at 1,314.99. The Nasdaq composite index finished down 13.70 points at 2,831.02.

Gold lost $46, its biggest drop since April, to $1,588 an ounce.