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Market Snapshot: U.S. stocks end lower on New Year’s Eve, but S&P 500, Dow, Nasdaq score big gains for 2021

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Major U.S. stock indexes closed lower Friday, as risk appetite waned on New Year’s Eve, but the S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite all closed out the month, quarter and year with gains despite the pandemic.

Read: Is the U.S. stock market closed on Friday for New Year’s Eve? No. It isn’t even closed on Monday. Here’s why!

How did stock benchmarks trade?
  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.16% fell 59.78 points, or 0.2%, to close at 36,338.30.
  • The S&P 500 SPX, -0.26% slipped 12.55 points, or 0.3%, to finish at 4,766.18.
  • The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.61% dropped 96.59 points, or 0.6%, to end at 15,644.97.

On Thursday, the Dow closed down 90.55 points, or 0.3%, to 36,398.08, the S&P 500 index fell 14.33 points, or 0.3%, to close at 4,778.73, the Nasdaq Composite Index declined 24.65 points to 15,741.56, a 0.2% loss.

For the week, the Dow logged a 1.1% gain, the S&P 500 rose 0.9% and the Nasdaq shed about 0.1%. For December, the Dow gained 5.4%, the S&P 500 climbed 4.4% and the Nasdaq edged up 0.7%. All three benchmarks also booked gains for the fourth quarter, with the Dow climbing 7.4%, the S&P 500 jumping 10.7% and the Nasdaq advancing 8.3%.

For 2021, the S&P 500 soared 26.9%, beating both the Nasdaq’s 21.4% rise and the Dow’s 18.7% climb.

What drove the market?

Major U.S. stock indexes fell in the final trading session of the year, as market participants closed out their trading logs for 2021, but the S&P 500 and Dow remained less 1% off their record highs. They also scored their best yearly gains since 2019, before the pandemic disrupted daily life across the globe.

“Today should be a relatively quiet day,” said Matthew Bartolini, head of SPDR Americas Research at State Street Global Advisors, in a phone interview Friday morning. Trading is thin, he said, with “more market movements” potentially coming toward the end of the day as investors closed out their positions for the year.

Thinner holiday volumes meant potential choppiness in the action in the final session of 2021, following a strong start to the past week of December, as investors assessed the path ahead for markets, a path that has been colored by a global pandemic that already has lasted about two years.

Despite recent dips, both the Dow and the S&P 500 posted record-high closes this week, with the rise for equities supported by the belief that disruptions from the omicron variant that causes COVID-19 won’t be lasting.

The seven-day average of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. has risen at a parabolic pace to 344,543 on Thursday, up from 301,477 on Wednesday, which is up about fourfold since Dec. 1 and 37% above the January 2021 daily peak of 251,232, according to a New York Times tracker. Hospitalizations also kept climbing, but at a slower pace, as the daily average reached 81,847 on Thursday.

Airlines canceled hundreds of flights Thursday because of labor shortages after thousands were scrubbed during the Christmas weekend, while the Federal Aviation Administration warned of possible delays tied to the virus at the agency. Also, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended that Americans avoid taking cruises, whether they are vaccinated or not.

JPMorgan Chase & Co. is one prominent bank that has offered its employees the option of working from home to start 2022. The money-center bank run by Jamie Dimon is “allowing for more flexibility during the first two weeks of January to work from home (if your role allows) at your manager’s discretion,” Bloomberg reported, citing a Thursday memo to employees.

However, in South Africa, where the omicron variant of COVID was first identified, the government said the country’s latest viral wave had subsided and it would be easing restrictions. In the U.S., while daily COVID cases soared to a record high, the CDC said that hospitalizations or deaths as a result of omicron are comparatively low. And White House medical expert Anthony Fauci has said that he is expecting the omicron outbreak to peak by the end of January.

There was no U.S. economic data scheduled for release due to the New Year’s Eve holiday and the bond market closed an hour earlier at 2 p.m. Eastern Time on Friday.

The U.S. stock market’s strong performance in 2021 has been driven by corporate earnings growth, said State Street’s Bartolini, with the S&P 500 index scoring a third straight year of double-digit gains.

“I think everyone just kinda wants to close out the year on a good note,” he said. “Market returns aside, it’s been quite a turbulent year.”

Which companies were in focus?
  • Advanced Micro Devices IncAMD said Thursday that its acquisition of fellow semiconductor company Xilinx Inc. XLNX would not close by the end of 2021, but that it expects the deal to be sealed early in the new year. Shares of AMD and Xilinx closed 0.9% lower Friday.
  • Shares of Zepp Health CorpZEPP were flat, after the China-based smart health technology company cut its fourth-quarter revenue outlook, citing a “greater than anticipated effects of COVID” and a more persistent global shortage of semiconductors.
  • The U.K. Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency said it has approved Pfizer’s PFE Paxlovid oral antiviral for people with mild to moderate COVID-19 who have at least one risk factor for developing severe illness. Shares of Pfizer rose 1.1%.
How did other assets fare?
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y was trading around 1.496%, marking its biggest yearly yield climb since 2013.
  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, fell 0.3%.
  • Oil futures fell, with West Texas Intermediate crude for February delivery CLG22, -2.00%  declining 2.3% to settle at $75.21 a barrel. WTI CL00, -2.00% rose more than 55% in 2021, its largely annual gain in 12 years.
  • Gold futures GC00 for February delivery GCG22 rose 0.8% to settle at $1,828.60 an ounce Friday. The precious metal fell 3.6% in 2021.
  • Bitcoin BTCUSD was up 1.7% at $47,985.
  • The FTSE 100 UKX, -0.25% fell about 0.2% Friday, but ended the year with gains of 14.3%. The Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP, -0.19% declined 0.2% Friday and posted gains of around 22.2% for 2021.
  • In Asian trade, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP ended 0.6% higher Friday, logging a 4.8% gain for the year. The Hang Seng Index HSI climbed 1.2% Friday, but remained down 14.1% for the year. China’s CSI 300 000300 booked a 0.4% advance Friday, but lost 5.2% for the year. The NIKKEI 225 index gained 4.9% in 2021, with Japan’s market closed on Friday.

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