NEW YORK: China and the United States headed the list of 2014 top-performing equity markets among larger economies while markets elsewhere ended the year on a wary note as another sharp drop in oil and worries about Greece's future provided an excuse to take profits.
The U.S. dollar on Wednesday added slightly to gains that have made it the year's star major currency, and some European bond yields added to a string of all-time lows following a surprisingly sharp fall in Spanish inflation on Tuesday.
European stocks wrapped up the year 3.5 percent higher overall with some striking exceptions, such as near-30 percent losses for debt-strained Greece and Portugal .
On Wall Street, stocks were modestly higher on Wednesday and the S&P 500 was on track to end 2014 near its record high.
“The trend isn't broken and you need to go with it until it breaks," said Michael Matousek, head trader at U.S. Global Investors Inc. in San Antonio.
“I don't see anything coming up that could really break the fundamental picture out there. We could see pull-backs, which you should buy on, but I don't see a downtrend."
The S&P 500 is on track to end its third straight year of double-digit positive returns. On a total return basis, the index is up 14.9 percent this year.
The Dow Jones industrial average has gained 8.8 percent and the Nasdaq Composite 14.9 percent for the year.
On Wednesday, the Dow was up 44.49 points, or 0.25 percent, at 18,027.56. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 2.56 points, or 0.12 percent, at 2,082.91. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 18.05 points, or 0.38 percent, at 4,795.48.
The stand-out global equity performer has been China, where the CSI300 index ended 2014 with gains of 52 percent after adding more than 25 percent in December alone, its best month since April 2007, in part as foreigners won wider access to Chinese stocks.
“China stocks have done really well this year and the dollar move has also been very interesting," said Alvin Tan, an FX strategist at Societe Generale in London. “It barely moved against the other major currencies in the first (half) of the year and all the big gains came in the second."
U.S. government debt that matures in 20 years and beyond is on track to book a 27 percent return, according to Barclays. That would be its biggest annual gain since 2011, when it generated a 33 percent return.
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 3/32, the yield at 2.1791 percent.
The dollar was on track to end 2014 up more than 12 percent against a basket of major currencies, its best performance since 2005, and an expected start to a Federal Reserve tightening cycle may strengthen its appeal in the new year.
With a slight gain on Wednesday, the dollar index was on track to finish above the 90 level for the first time since 2005.
The euro, undermined by bets that the European Central Bank will have to start buying government bonds to avert deflation, was down 0.3 percent at $1.2116, having touched a 2-1/2 year low of $1.2112.
The Russian rouble was down 6.2 percent on the day as a 78.5 percent plunge for the year marked its worst performance since Russia defaulted in 1998.
The young bitcoin currency is closing the year only slightly better than the rouble, falling 57 percent at about $315. It peaked at $995 last January.
Having already halved from a peak this year, crude oil prices slumped again on Wednesday, with Brent falling as much as 3.7 percent to trade below $56 a barrel and U.S. crude down 3 percent at its session low. Weak Chinese manufacturing data and demand concerns further weighed on prices.
Brent was last down 2 percent at $56.74 a barrel and WTI fell 2.2 percent to $52.92 a barrel. For the year Brent is down 49 percent and WTI lost 46 percent.
Copper, of which China is the biggest consumer, looked set to post its biggest annual decline in three years at 14 percent, while traditional safe-haven gold was set to close the year slightly lower. Silver fell nearly 20 percent in 2014 after a more than 35 percent drop in 2013.