U.S. stocks ended the final trading day of 2015 with a whimper rather than a bang Thursday, as the S&P 500 Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average both snapped multiyear winning streaks.
The S&P 500 index SPX, -0.94% dropped 19.42 points, or 0.9%, to close the year at 2,043.94, snapping a three-year winning streak. The index had traded between fractional gains and losses for the year for most of the session, then nose dived in the final hour of trading, netting a 0.7% loss for 2015.
The S&P was up 4.46 points for the year through Wednesday, giving it an 0.2% gain before Thursday’s session.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -1.02% dropped 178.84 points, or 1%, to finish the year at 17,425.03, led by a 1.9% slump in shares of Apple Inc. AAPL, -1.92% The Dow industrials finished 2015 down 2.2%, for its first annual loss since 2008.
The Dow industrials started the session needing a gain of 219.20 points just to break even on the year.
Meanwhile, the Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -1.15% fell 58.43 points, or 1.2%, to end the year at 5,007.41, the only index out of the three to post a gain for the year. That gain makes it four years in a row the Nasdaq has posted a yearly gain, its longest winning streak since 2007.
Not even a jump in oil prices was enough to help stocks. Thursday’s end-of-the-year decline for stocks came even as oil prices CLG6, +1.28% turned positive for the day. The move came on the heels of a 3.4% plunge Wednesday, which helped drive losses for Wall Street. Oil futures dropped 11% in December drop and 30.5% for the year.
Given low trading volumes, the fate of Thursday’s market was expected to be decided early in the session, said Randy Frederick, managing director of Schwab Center for Financial Research.
Frederick had predicted the market’s first three hours would determine the direction for stocks with traders likely to end the session as early as they can. “Wherever the market is midday is likely where it ends,” he had predicted.
That rang fairly true. Stocks initially bottomed out in their first hour of trading Thursday, peaked in the second hour, and started drifting off into a selloff from which they never quite recovered, finishing the day at session lows.
Tech steals the show: In 2015, tech stocks wiped the floor with the broader market, which was weighed down by weak energy stocks. But while the Nasdaq was the bright spot this year, the S&P 500 may regain ground in 2016 “as a reverse in oil prices in the later part of the first quarter is a possibility,” said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial Company, in emailed comments.
Data on tap: Weekly jobless claims released early Thursday rose 20,000 to 287,000 in the week ended Dec. 26—marking the largest weekly increase since February. Meanwhile the Chicago Purchasing Manager’s Index, a barometer of business activity, plunged to its lowest level since July 2009 at 42.9 in December from 48.7 in November. A reading below 50 for the PMI indicates contraction.
Stocks to watch: Energy stocks led gainers on the S&P 500, with shares of Southwestern Energy Co. SWN, +12.86% up 13%. Other gainers included Range Resources Corp. RRC, +7.28% Oneok Inc. OKE, +5.20% and Williams Cos. WMB, +5.28%
Shares of Chimerix Inc. CMRX, +7.19% rose 7% after hedge fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen’s investment firm on Wednesday reported a 5.3% stake in the biotech group. That move comes days after shares plunged 80% in one day on news of an unsuccessful late-stage drug trial.
Other markets: Asia stocks largely closed out the final session of 2015 with losses. The Shanghai Composite SHCOMP, -0.94% climbed 9.8% for the year, making it the best-performing stock market in Asia this year, despite that summer crash.
In Europe, stocks trading in a shortened session logged a fourth-straight year of gains, with the Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP, -0.51% up 6.8% for the year. Dogged by weak commodity prices, the FTSE 100 UKX, -0.51% underperformed the rest of Europe with a 4.5% loss on the year.
The dollar was up slightly. For the full year, the ICE Dollar Index DXY, +0.44% a measure of the currency against major rivals, is up 9.3%. Gold prices GCG6, +0.07% settled up 40 cents at $1,060.20, but fell more than 10% for the year.