U.S. stock indexes fell on Friday, putting a negative tinge to an otherwise positive year as selling accelerated in the final minutes of a thinly traded session.
Some of the selling followed a Reuters report that Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea in recent months, a development that could add another element of geopolitical uncertainty to markets, particularly given the strained relations between the U.S. and Moscow in 2017.
Where did stock indexes end?
The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.48% fell 118.29 points, or 0.5%, to 24,719, closing at its low of the day. The blue-chip average had traded in positive territory for much of the session, only to drop toward the close. The decline erased a weekly gain for the Dow, which had been poised to be its sixth positive week in a row.
The S&P 500 SPX, -0.52% fell 13.93 points, or 0.5%, to 2,673.61, ending near its lows of the session. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.67% lost 46.77 points, to 6,903.39, a decline of 0.7%. The tech-heavy index ended at its session lows.
Both the Dow and the S&P are within 1 percentage point of record levels, while the Nasdaq is within 2 percentage points. All three ended lower for the week but closed higher for the month of December, as is common, given the month’s historical strength.
For the year, the S&P gained 19.4%, and the Nasdaq rose 28.2%. The Dow added 25.1%, having hit 71 closing records over the year, itself a record. All three posted their best year since 2013, and the Nasdaq rose for its sixth straight year, its longest such streak since one that lasted from 1975 to 1980, according to WSJ Market Data Group.
What drove the markets?
The day’s losses were widespread, with 10 of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors falling on the day and the 11th ending flat. Telecom stocks fell 0.9% while both the health-care and financial sectors gave up 0.7%. Much of the decline came in the last half-hour of trading, a fall that roughly corresponded with the publication of the Reuters report.
The volatility seen over the afternoon could have been exacerbated by lighter-than-average liquidity. Trading was muted in the final days of 2017, with volumes some of the lowest of the year, and with many traders on vacation until after the New Year’s holiday on Monday, when markets will be closed. On average, trading volumes in 2017 hit a three-year low amid near-absent volatility.
More broadly, expectations are growing that President Donald Trump’s administration will shift attention to a $1 trillion infrastructure-spending bill, which could deliver a further jolt to Wall Street buying after Republicans passed the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years as well as a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded into early 2018.
Additionally, the dollar has fallen sharply this week, which is good news for the big American exporters. The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, -0.41% was down 0.3% on Friday, deepening its 2017 loss—its largest yearly slide since 2003.
There were no major economic data releases on Friday.
What did analysts say?
“If 2017 shows us anything, it’s that even if you know the outcome to an event, it’s hard to know how the market will react to it,” said Craig Birk, executive vice president of portfolio management at Personal Capital, which manages $5.5 billion in assets.
Birk added that “there’s always political risk” in markets, though he spoke to MarketWatch before the day’s selling. In addition to geopolitical tension with other countries, Birk cited the U.S. midterm elections that will occur in 2018, as well as the investigation currently being conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, as political factors that could trip up markets in the coming year.
Which stocks were in focus?
Progenics Pharmaceuticals Inc. PGNX, +1.71% rose 1.7% after the company said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted for review its new drug application for Azedra in patients with rare neuroendocrine tumors.
Shares of Netflix Inc. NFLX, -0.39% lost 0.4%. The online-streaming service said on Thursday it plans to increase the annual salary for a number of its top executives in 2018, citing the recently passed tax overhaul for the change.
What did other markets do?
Metals were mixed, with gold GCG8, +0.61% rose 0.9% to settle at $1,309.30 an ounce.
Asian stocks closed out 2017 in mostly upbeat fashion, while European markets struggled for direction.