Trading quiet as year draws to end

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The Dow Jones industrials rose 3 points to close at 11,573

Stock indexes were mixed in quiet New Year’s Eve trading.

The last day of the year contrasted with a sometimes gut-wrenching 2010. Despite investors’ concerns about the US economy, the possibility of European countries defaulting on debt, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index and the Dow Jones industrial average are both up about 14% for the year, including dividends. The Nasdaq composite index, meanwhile, is up about 18% for the year after dividends.

In midday trading, the Dow Jones industrial average gained three points, or less than 0.1%, to 11,573. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose less than a point to 1,258. The Nasdaq composite index dipped 9, or 0.3%, to 2,654.

The Dow is poised to end the year at its highest level since August 2008, before the height of the financial crisis. The S&P might rise to its best December in 20 years.

The numbers hide the fact that it was a rocky year. Stocks plunged in the spring after Greece required an emergency bailout to deal with its debt crisis. That raised concerns about debt issues in other European countries, including Ireland, which needed a bailout later in the year.

The May 6 “flash crash,” which sent the Dow down to a loss of nearly 1,000 points in less than half an hour, also rattled investors. The Dow fell 14% from a high of 11,205.03 on April 26 to its low of 9,686.48 on July 2.

But stocks came back in the last part of the year after the Federal Reserve announced a 600 billion dollar (£385 billion) bond-buying programme to lower interest rates and stimulate the economy. Bond yields fell to levels down not seen since the 1950s.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to a yearly high of just under 4% in April and then plunged as low as 2.38% in October. That contributed to a historic drop in mortgage rates that brought 30-year fixed-rate loans to a low of 4.17% early in November.

“It was a market that needed stimulus and responded miraculously,” said Quincy Krosby, the chief market strategist at Prudential. “Corporate fundamentals were clearly excellent, but to get the push that the market needed to keep it going it needed more buyers.”

Investors were also encouraged by an extension of Bush-era tax cuts and improving economic reports on unemployment, retail sales and consumer confidence, which suggested that Americans were beginning to spend again. By the end of December, investors began moving money back into US stock funds after selling for every week since May.

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