Stocks Sputter: Close Out Worst Year Since 2008


U.S. equity markets capped the last trading day of the year solidly in the red as Wall Street bid adieu to a rollercoaster 2015.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 179 points, or 1.02% to 17424. The S&P 500 shed 19 points, or 0.95% to 2043, while the Nasdaq Composite slipped 58 points, or 1.15% to 5007.

The energy sector was the only one in positive territory on the session, while utilities and telecom declined the most.

Today’s Markets

After a rocky year, the broad U.S. stock markets closed out 2015 just about where they started. The S&P 500 flirted with the unchanged line for the year, ultimately closing down 0.72% for the year, while the Dow saw 2.23% losses for the year -- the worst year since 2008.

The Nasdaq, however was boosted by big tech names including Netflix (NASDAQ:NFLX) and its stellar 139% move higher this year, alongside Amazon’s 122% surge, and saw gains of 5.7% for 2015.

Only four of the 10 S&P 500 sectors saw year-end gains. The winners included consumer discretionary, health care, technology, and consumer staples, while energy was by far the biggest loser, looking to round out the year with double-digit percentage losses.

On Thursday, stocks got a rough start to the session as oil prices continued their decline and volume was low ahead of the long New Year’s weekend.

“Volume contracted, all major market sectors lost ground, and internals spoke to traders simply wanting to turn the page on a very tough year,” Peter Kenny, independent market strategist said in a note.

Still, Kenny said for all the turmoil in the markets this year, including global-economic uncertainty after China’s surprise devaluation of the yuan, another debt standoff in Greece, and diverging worldwide central bank policies, the major averages in the U.S. were within striking distance of record highs.

“We could either close out the year in negative territory or trade to a record high. We will likely do neither unless the bottom truly falls out of crude, in which case a negative yearly performance would be a certainty,” he explained.

The story in the oil patch has been one that persistently weighed on the markets through 2015 thanks to plunging oil prices that have weighed significantly on the energy sector, which is set to see a whopping 23% plunge for the year. It’s the second-year of losses for oil, which over the period, has seen a 63% decline, and the first back-to-back down years since 1998.

On Thursday, prices were as mixed after clawing back from losses of nearly 1% as persisting concerns about global oversupply continued to weigh on sentiment. West Texas Intermediate crude rose 1.20% to $37.04 a barrel, down 30% for the year. Meanwhile, Brent, the international benchmark, rose 2.25% to $37.28 a barrel, down 35% for the year, it’s third-consecutive year of declines.

Kenny said he anticipates the downward trend to continue in 2016 with the supply glut worsening in the first half of the year thanks to increased production and exports from Russian and Middle East suppliers.

“U.S. rig counts will continue to contract though at a more modest pace. Supply/demand equilibrium will likely take shape in the second half to be accompanied by an attempt at price stabilization and a modest rebound. Year-end target of $42 a barrel,” he said.

Metals, meanwhile, were mixed on the session Thursday as gold rose 0.02% to $1,060 a troy ounce, the biggest percentage decline since 2013, and the fifth-lowest settle of the year as it rounds out the period down 10%. Silver slipped 0.28% to $13.78 an ounce,  down 12% for the year, while copper slid 0.54% to $2.13 a pound, down 25% for the year, and the worse one-year decline since 2011.

On the economic data front, weekly jobless claims came in with a bigger-than-expected rise. The number of Americans filing for first-time unemployment benefits jumped last week to 287,000 from an unrevised 267,000 the week prior. Wall Street had expected a smaller increase to 270,000. The four-week average, meanwhile, ticked up to 277,000 from 272,000.

The final report of the year came from the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago. Its gauge of factory activity in the Midwest region unexpectedly slipped further into contraction territory this month. The gauge fell to 42.9 from 48.7 in November. Wall Street expected a slight rise to 49.8. The reading was the lowest since July 2009. Readings above 50 point to expansion, while those below indicate contraction.