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U.S. stocks post sixth straight year of gains

Specialist Jay Woods is reflected in a screen at his post in a photo from July. The market had a better year than most analysts had predicted, although the Nasdaq and Standard & Poor’s index outperformed the Dow.
Specialist Jay Woods is reflected in a screen at his post in a photo from July. The market had a better year than most analysts had predicted, although the Nasdaq and Standard & Poor’s index outperformed the Dow. File photo

U.S. stocks ended a strong 2014 with moderate declines Wednesday.

Even with the losses, the Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished the year with an 11.4 percent increase, its sixth straight year of gains. Oil, by contrast, had its worst annual performance since 2008, ending down 45 percent for 2014 after a sharp slump in the second half of the year.

The 11.4 percent rise in the S&P 500 was double what strategists expected for the market at the beginning of the year.

“It turned out to be a great year for U.S. economic growth, which got us higher corporate profits as well,” said Cameron Hinds, regional chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank.

Most strategists believe the stock market will also rise in 2015, but they expect more modest gains of between 4 percent and 6 percent.

There was no major catalyst for Wednesday’s selling. Trading has been slow all week because of the holidays, and most fund managers have closed their books for the year. However, some investors do reshuffle their portfolios in the last few days of the year for tax purposes.

Roughly 2.6 billion shares were traded on the New York Stock Exchange, compared with the 3.6 billion typically traded on an average day.

Energy stocks edged lower as the price of oil fell. Benchmark U.S. crude dropped 85 cents to $53.27 a barrel in New York. Oil has plunged since June amid abundant supplies and weak global demand. In total, the price fell 45 percent in 2014, the worst year for crude since the 2008 financial crisis.

Oil drillers fell the most Wednesday. Diamond Offshore was the biggest decliner in the S&P 500, falling 3.6 percent. The energy component of the S&P 500 is down 10 percent this year.

“I think most of the selling you’re seeing today is related to the fall in oil, as well as repositioning before the end of the year,” Hinds said.

U.S. markets will be closed Thursday for New Year’s Day and will reopen Friday.

On Wednesday, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 160 points to 17,823.07. It ended 2014 up 7.5 percent, lagging behind the S&P 500 and Nasdaq.

The Nasdaq lost 41.39 points to 4,736.05. The Nasdaq rose 13.4 percent in 2014.

The S&P 500 fell 21.45 points to 2,058.90.

Gold fell $16.30 to $1,184.10 an ounce. The precious metal barely budged in 2014, falling 0.2 percent, compared with its drop of 28.3 percent in 2013.

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