Stocks off to slow start on final day of a tumultuous year

NEW YORK (AP) — Stocks are off to a mixed start on Wall Street on the last day of 2020, a year that saw a breathtaking nosedive in markets in the spring as the coronavirus took hold followed by steady gains in the months that followed as hopes built for an eventual return to something like normal. The S&P 500 edged down 0.1% early Thursday. It’s still on track for a gain of more than 15% for the year, or more than 17% with dividends included. Several overseas markets were closed for holidays, and U.S. markets will be closed for New Years Day on Friday.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

TOKYO (AP) — Trading in Tokyo was closed for the New Year’s holidays Thursday, while the handful of bourses that remained open in Asia and Europe was mixed.

France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.5% in early trading to 5,571.46. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 1,5% to 6,456.77.

U.S. shares were set to drift lower with Dow futures down 0.1% at 30,261. S&P 500 futures shed nearly 0.2% to 3,717.62.

Trading was closed in Tokyo and South Korea as well as Germany.

Australia’s S&P/ASX fell 1.4% to 6,587.10, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained 0.3% to 27,231.13, closing early at midday. The Shanghai Composite gained 1.7% to 3,473.07.

The Tokyo exchange marked the end of trading for the year Wednesday, with the Nikkei falling 0.5%, and trading will not reopen until Monday next week. Global markets will be closed New Year’s Day Friday.

Focus has been on the continuing vaccine development around the globe, with China’s Sinopharm becoming the latest to release encouraging study results. Investors are optimistic about more vaccines gaining approval in coming weeks.

“Surely, I am not the only one who had massive doubts, but miraculously, we have about made it over the year-end finishing line in one piece,” said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at Axi.

Ahead of the final day of trading on Wall Street in 2020, the S&P 500 is up 15.5% this year, while the Nasdaq is up 43.4%.

The modest gains came as the effort to develop and distribute vaccines to fight the virus pandemic intensifies. Britain has authorized the use of a COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University. The vaccine is considered easier to store and handle than others hitting the market. Earlier in December, both the U.K. and U.S. approved a vaccine made by Pfizer.

In energy trading, benchmark U.S. crude slipped 24 cents to $48.16 a barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, gained 25 cents to $51.34 a barrel.

In currency trading, the U.S. dollar inched down to 103.16 Japanese yen from 103.33 yen. The euro cost $1.2290, up from $1.2260.