NEW YORK – Wall Street marked the last trading day of 2005 Friday by pushing stocks lower as investors gave up on the dwindling fourth-quarter rally and consolidated what profits they made this year.
With little news to spur buying, the Dow Jones industrial average closed the year with a loss for the first time since 2002, though other major indexes posted modest gains for 2005.
Dow fell 67.32, or 0.62 percent, to 10,717.50. The Dow needed to remain above 10,783.01 for a positive 2005. Broader stock indicators also lost ground. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 6.13, or 0.49 percent, to 1,248.29, and the Nasdaq composite index fell 12.84, or 0.58 percent, to 2,205.32.
The year was marked by skyrocketing energy prices, a slowing economy, hot-and-cold inflation threats and the Federal Reserve steadily raising interest rates — all of which made investors nervous over the state of the economy and kept stocks volatile though, ultimately, little changed since the end of 2004.
For the year, the Dow fell 0.61 percent, while the S&P rose 3 percent and the Nasdaq gained 1.37 percent.
Much of those gains came in the fourth quarter, when November's rally, prompted by lower energy costs and the appearance of an end in sight to the Fed's interest rate hikes, caused eager investors to jump back into stocks. For the quarter, the Dow rose 1.41 percent, the S&P climbed 1.59 percent and the Nasdaq gained 2.5 percent.
Yet December was a difficult month for stocks and the much-anticipated "Santa Claus" rally never really materialized as concerns once again arose over the Fed's policies and energy prices marched back above $60 per barrel. For the month, the Dow lost 0.82 percent, the S&P shed 0.1 percent and the Nasdaq fell 1.23 percent.
Investors hope the Fed will stop raising rates as early as possible in 2006 to avoid slowing the economy unnecessarily, and nervousness on this point has kept stocks in check through December.
"It's really the Fed at this point that's kept the market in check," said Hans Olsen, managing director and chief investment officer at Bingham Legg Advisers. "The historic conversation between the Fed and the markets has become a bit of an argument over whether there's really inflation, and whether we need those rate hikes."
Bonds moved lower in volatile trading, with the yield on the 10-year Treasury note rising to 4.38 percent from 4.36 percent late Thursday. The inversion of the yield curve this week — with shorter-term bonds now yielding more than the 10-year — pressured stocks, as many on Wall Street feel that such an inversion augurs a slower economy and a possible recession.
Energy prices built on the previous session's gains, with a barrel of light crude quoted at $60.45, up 13 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The dollar rose against most major currencies, while gold prices also moved higher.
In corporate news, Dow component Citigroup (C) fell 18 cents to $48.40 after media reports said the financial services company was leading a consortium to buy a stake in China's Guangdong bank for $3 billion. Citigroup was also approved to trade the yuan as an interbank foreign exchange market maker.
Google Inc. (GOOG) is the defendant in a $5 billion lawsuit brought by Rates Technology Inc. Rates claims Google inappropriately used its voice-over-Internet technology in its Google Talk product, introduced earlier this year. Google, which said the suit is without merit, dropped $5.36, or 1.3 percent, to $414.79.
Chipmaker Intel Corp. (INTC) lost 5 cents to $25.02 as it plans to unveil a new branding strategy that includes a new logo, a change in its "Intel Inside" stickers on personal computers, and dropping the long-standing Pentium brand name.
Declining issues outnumbered advancers by about 7 to 3 on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 389.69 million shares, compared with 407.84 million shares traded at the same point on Thursday
The Russell 2000 index of smaller companies fell 5.53, or 0.82 percent, to 672.43.
Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average tumbled 1.42 percent, though the index remained up 40 percent for the year on a strong second-half rally. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 was down 0.35 percent, Germany's DAX index dropped 0.92 percent, and France's CAC-40 fell 1.21 percent. All three European indexes remained on course to post double-digit gains for 2005.