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Wall Street limps to end of a tumultuous year on a positive note



NEW YORK (Reuters) – Wall Street rose solidly in relatively light trading on Monday as revelers gathered to ring in 2019, marking the end of the worst year for major U.S. indexes in a decade.

After a strong January, Wall Street was challenged for much of 2018 by tariff disputes, rising interest rates, and fears of diminishing corporate profits.

December was a particularly trying month for U.S. equities. The S&P 500 .SPX looks set to post its worst December since the Great Depression and the Nasdaq .IXIC confirmed it was in a bear market, or 20 percent below its high. All three are down more than 9 percent since the beginning of the month.

“We were very strong through most of the year, it’s really been the last quarter where things fell apart a bit,” said JJ Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade in Chicago. “People got nervous in large part because of unknowns facing the markets.”

On Monday, stocks rose as renewed trade optimism gave a boost to investor sentiment.

U.S. President Donald Trump indicated on Twitter that progress had been made toward a potential resolution to the trade tensions between the United States and China which have plagued stock markets for much of the year.

Trading volume was relatively light, owing to the holiday as the U.S. federal government shutdown entered its tenth day.

Healthcare .SPXHC and tariff-sensitive technology .SPLRCT stocks provided the biggest boost to the S&P 500 on Monday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average .DJI rose 222.16 points, or 0.96 percent, to 23,284.56, the S&P 500 .SPX gained 16.83 points, or 0.68 percent, to 2,502.57 and the Nasdaq Composite .IXIC added 45.85 points, or 0.7 percent, to 6,630.37.

Of the 11 major sectors in the S&P 500, nine were in positive territory. But for the year, only healthcare and utilities .SPLRCU were on pace to end 2018 higher.

Energy .SPNY, materials .SPLRCM, communication services .SPLRCL, industrials .SPLRCI and financials .SPSY were the biggest percentage losers of 2018, down between 15 percent and 21 percent from the beginning of the year.

The 20.9 percent drop of energy stocks in 2018 was largely attributable to crude prices LCOc1 plunging 38 percent since early October.

FILE PHOTO: Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., December 28, 2018. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

“We’re coming into 2019 with uncertainty and everyone is in wait and see mode,” Kinahan said. “People are going to need to see proof before they dive in again.”

Advancing issues outnumbered declining ones on the NYSE by a 1.61-to-1 ratio; on Nasdaq, a 1.24-to-1 ratio favored advancers.

The S&P 500 posted no new 52-week highs and no new lows; the Nasdaq Composite recorded 3 new highs and 61 new lows.

Reporting by Stephen Culp; Editing by Alistair Bell