U.S. stocks fell on Friday, the last trading day of a turbulent year, with the broad S&P 500 index on track to end 2011 barely changed from 2010's closing level.
Efforts by market participants over the past few days to push the broader index into positive territory for the year were not enough as ongoing uncertainty about the euro zone's debt crisis and fears of a global recession curbed market sentiment.
The S&P was up 0.2 percent for the year. Not since 1970 has the index shown such little annual movement in either direction. But the Dow has gained 5.7 percent as investors sought safety in large-cap, dividend-paying stocks. The Nasdaq is down 1.6 percent.
For Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average <.DJI> was down 63.31 points, or 0.52 percent, at 12,223.73. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.SPX> was down 4.39 points, or 0.35 percent, at 1,258.63. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.IXIC> was down 5.34 points, or 0.20 percent, at 2,608.40.
The other times it (the S&P 500 index) didn't change much during the year (such as this year), it performed quite well during the next year, said Jason Goepfert, president of SentimenTrader.com in a report.
Overall, the years after these small-change years did well, especially during the past 50 years.
Of those, the next year returned a median gain of 17.8 percent, according to Goepfert's data. The maximum loss averaged only a decline of 1.6 percent versus a maximum gain that averaged 20.9 percent. He also noted the final session of the year has not had a great run lately, being positive only 34 percent of the time during the past 30 years.
Daily volume this week has been running about half of the average, with many traders away for the Christmas and New Year's holidays. The anemic action amplified moves in both directions.
The CBOE VIX volatility index <.VIX> is up about 30 percent for the year, the first increase since 2008. The S&P climbed 9 percent at its peak, and dropped 14.5 percent to its bottom.
European shares closed up on Friday but recorded their biggest annual drop in three years as debt tensions in the euro zone strained the financial sector and threatened to derail a fragile economic recovery. <.EU>
Global markets have been battered this year by the debt crisis, upheaval in the Middle East, a devastating Japanese earthquake and tsunami as well as a struggling U.S. economy.
Defensive sectors like utilities outperformed growth sectors, underscoring the view that investors were concerned about the economic outlook.
Financials <.GSPF> were the weakest group this year, falling more than 18 percent, as the concerns about global growth threw into doubt banks' ability to increase profits. Bank of America Corp
Cabot Oil & Gas Corp
For a graphic on 2011 market performance, see:
Investors may have become too panic-stricken, some analysts said.
Most of the Italian debt gets rolled over in the first quarter ... Once that debt's rolled, if it's rolled successfully, then there isn't any more to talk about this subject we've beaten to death for over a year now, said Ken Fisher, chief executive of Fisher Investments.
Ford Motor Co
Composite volume was 2.28 billion on the New York Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and Amex, lighter than normal for midday.
Advancers led decliners on the NYSE by about 4 to 3 on the NYSE, while on the Nasdaq, they were about 3 to 2.
(Reporting By Angela Moon; additional reporting by Doris Frankel in Chicago; Editing by Kenneth Barry)