Damian J. Troise
 |  Associated Press


NEW YORK – U.S. stocks wavered between small gains and losses in morning trading Thursday but hovered near record highs as investors close the book on a tumultuous year.

The S&P 500 was unchanged and remains close to the record high it set on Monday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 12 points, or less than 0.1%, to 397 as of 10:08 a.m. Eastern. The Nasdaq fell 0.1%.

Communications companies held up well in muted trading. Facebook rose 1.5% and Google’s parent, Alphabet, rose 1%. A mix of retail and travel-related stocks fell the most. Cruise line operator Carnival fell 3.5%.

Markets were mostly quiet early into the final day of trading for the year. Several overseas markets were closed for holidays, and U.S. markets will be closed for New Years Day on Friday.

Major indexes are all on track to close the year with solid gains. The benchmark S&P 500 is poised for a gain of more than 15%, or more than 17% with dividends included. The technology-heavy Nasdaq could close the year with a gain of more than 40%.

The virus pandemic shocked markets early in the year. The S&P 500 fell 8.4% in February, then plunged 12.5% in March as the pandemic essentially froze the global economy. Businesses shut down in the face of the virus threat and tighter government restrictions. People shifted to working, shopping and doing pretty much everything else from home.

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The dire economic situation weighed heavily on almost any company that relied on direct consumer spending or a physical presence, including airlines, restaurants, hotels and mall-based retailers.

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Wall Street didn’t stay down for long though, thanks in large part to unprecedented actions from the Federal Reserve and Congress to support the economy. Investors flocked to big technology companies such as Apple and Amazon and smaller companies like Grubhub and Etsy that were poised to take advantage of the shift to working and shopping from home.

The S&P 500 jumped 12.7% in April. From there, markets disconnected from the rest of the still-reeling economy and pushed higher in fits and starts as vaccine development progressed and analysts and economists looked ahead to the eventual end of the pandemic.

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The end seems even closer now that vaccine approval and distribution is ramping up. The U.S. and U.K. have both approved Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine and Britain recently approved another vaccine from AstraZeneca and Oxford University. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has approved another round of aid for businesses and people dealing with another surge in the virus and tighter restrictions on businesses.

Trading was closed in Tokyo and South Korea as well as Germany. France’s CAC 40 slipped 0.9% and Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 1.5%.

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