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[NEW YORK] The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 racked up their worst annual performance in seven years on Thursday after a sell-off in the final Wall Street session of 2015.
The S&P 500 fell 0.9 per cent to 2,043.94, leaving the broad-based gauge of US stocks down 0.7 per cent for the year, its first loss since 2011.
The blue-chip Dow dropped 1.0 per cent in the session to 17,425.03, taking its annual loss to 2.2 per cent.
But the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index proved a bright spot, ending 2015 with a gain of 5.7 per cent despite dropping 1.2 per cent to 5,007.41 in the last day of trade.
Analysts said the declines in Thursday's session should be taken with a grain of salt due to light trading volume ahead of the market's closure Friday for the New Year holiday and the incentive to sell stocks at the end of the year to book losses for tax purposes.
But the closing of the books on the worst year for the Dow and S&P 500 since 2008, after both repeatedly had punched through record highs during the year, left a sense of an end to the seven-year bull run since the financial crisis.
Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Global Asset Management, said he was "hopeful" about 2016, but listed a litany of possible problems, ranging from low commodity prices to still-high equity valuations and the Federal Reserve's move to lift interest rates.
"There are risks out there and the problem is the market isn't cheap, so it's going to take bad news hard if we get it," he said.
Wall Street appeared heading for another year of gains through August when a stretch of turbulence in Chinese equity markets ignited a global sell-off, pushing the S&P 500 below 1,900.
Stocks subsequently steadied, but trade was choppy in December, with weakness in oil prices often spurring equity selling.
Energy stocks were by far the laggard among industrial sectors, falling nearly 24 per cent for the year, according to preliminary figures from S&P Capital IQ.
Sectors with gains included consumer discretionary, up 8.4 per cent, and health care, up 5.2 per cent after a wave of merger announcements, it said.
The flashiest gains came from technology companies like Netflix and Amazon, with respective jumps of 134 per cent and 118 per cent as they posted strong growth. That contrasted sharply with older companies like Procter & Gamble, Caterpillar and Macy's that saw revenues drop.
"2015 was a year where revenues were evasive and investors were attracted to companies that were able to grow their top line," Ablin said.
"That's the problem: for every Amazon, there's probably a half dozen Macy's that are down dramatically."