Stock index futures pointed to a flat open Friday, the last trading day of 2011, as investors waited until next year to begin making large bets.
With the S&P 500 on track for a slight gain for the year, many market participants will likely stay on the sidelines on what is typically one of the lowest-volume sessions for the year.
Equities may continue a trend followed for much of 2011, taking a cue from European markets. Mixed results from a recent auction for Italian bonds reignited worries about the region's debt crisis. European shares rose 0.5 percent Friday but were on track for their worst year since 2008. <.EU>
Volume this week has been about half the year's daily average, with many traders away for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The anemic action has amplified moves in both directions.
The volume has the potential to add volatility today, but it looks like this is going to be a quiet day, said Robert Pavlik, chief market strategist at Banyan Partners LLC in New York. There doesn't seem to be any indication that we'll be pushed around or that much will happen, but the volume is something investors need to be mindful of.
Ford Motor Co
China's factory activity shrank again December as demand at home and abroad slackened, a purchasing managers survey showed Friday, reinforcing the case for pro-growth policies from Beijing.
Concerns about a hard economic landing in China have been on investor minds throughout 2011 and could linger into next year. Shares in Hong Kong and China had their worst year since 2008
S&P 500 futures rose 1 point and were about even with fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures rose 7 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 2.5 points.
Global markets have been battered this year by Europe's debt crisis, upheaval in the Middle East, a devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami as well as a struggling U.S. economy. The S&P is up 0.4 percent, while the Dow has gained 6.2 percent as investors sought safety in large-cap dividend -paying names. The Nasdaq is down 1.5 percent.
Given everything the world went through this year, ending flat is practically a victory for professional investors, Pavlik said.
Volatility was high throughout the year, with the S&P climbing 9 percent at its peak, and dropping 14.5 percent to its bottom. The CBOE Volatility index <.VIX> is up about 28 percent this year.
Financials <.GSPF> were the weakest sector of the year, falling 18 percent, as the concerns about global growth threw into doubt the group's ability to grow profits. Bank of America Corp
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp
Among S&P sectors, defensive groups performed the best, with utilities <.GSPU>, consumer staples <.GSPS> and health care <.GSPA> the top three gainers, all climbing more than 10 percent.
U.S. stocks rallied 1 percent on Thursday, moving the S&P 500 back into positive territory for the year on positive signals on the U.S. economy, including strong data on home sales and Midwest factory activity.
(Reporting by Ryan Vlastelica; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)