Market Snapshot: U.S. stocks struggle to close out 2017 on an up note

U.S. stocks inched lower on Friday, suggesting that an otherwise stellar year for equities in 2017 would end on a modestly negative note in a thinly traded session.

What are stock indexes doing?

The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.09%  fell 14 points, or 0.1%, to 24,823. The blue-chip average closed at a record on Thursday—its 71st of the year, a record. The S&P 500 SPX, -0.11%  fell about 2 points, or about 0.1%, to 2,685. The benchmark indexes is less than a percentage point from its own record. The Nasdaq Composite Index COMP, -0.21%  was down 10 points, or 0.1%, at 6,940.

All three indexes opened higher but turned down in midday trading. However, all three are on track to end December higher, as is common, given the month’s historical strength.

For the year, the S&P has gained about 20%, the Dow is up nearly 26% , and the Nasdaq is up 29%. All three are on track for their best year since 2013, and the Nasdaq is set for its sixth straight annual gain, its longest such streak since one that lasted from 1975 to 1980.

What is driving the markets?

Trading has been muted in recent days, with volumes some of the lowest of the year, and traders are likely to remain on vacation until after the New Year’s holiday on Monday. On average, trading volumes in 2017 hit a three-year low amid near-absent volatility.

However, the late-session rally on Thursday and Friday morning’s positive mood suggested that investors aren’t ready to dump stocks going into next year.

Moreover, expectations are growing that President Donald Trump’s administration will shift attention to a $1 trillion infrastructure-spending bill, which could deliver a further jolt to Wall Street buying after Republicans passed the most sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years as well as a stopgap spending bill to keep the government funded into early 2018.

Additionally, the dollar has fallen sharply this week, which is good news for the big American exporters. The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, -0.60%  was down 0.3% on Friday, deepening its 2017 loss to 9.7%—its largest yearly slide since 2003.

There are no major economic data releases on deck on Friday.

What are analysts saying?

“The consistency we saw in stocks throughout the year was incredible, and it looks like today will be the same,” said Craig Birk, executive vice president of portfolio management at Personal Capital, which manages $5.5 billion in assets.

“It’s a continuation of a trend we’ve seen the whole year. People are still digesting the tax bill, which is positive for stocks, although the general muted reaction suggests that most of it is already reflected in the market. Valuations are high, historically, which is a headwind, but if you normalize for interest rates and what the tax bill may do to prop up earnings and lower P/Es, they’re not scarily high.”

Which stocks are in focus?

Progenics Pharmaceuticals Inc. PGNX, +5.30%  rose 4% after the company said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted for review its new drug application for Azedra in patients with rare neuroendocrine tumors.

Shares of Netflix Inc. NFLX, -0.14%  lost 0.3%. The online-streaming service said on Thursday it plans to increase the annual salary for a number of its top executives in 2018, citing the recently passed tax overhaul for the change.

The day’s moves were slight, though there was a downward bias, with seven of the 11 primary S&P 500 sectors down on the day. Financials and tech shares—both of which are among the year’s biggest gainers—retreated in 2017’s final trading day, with both down 0.3%. Apple Inc. AAPL, -0.58%  fell 0.7%, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS, -0.12%  dipped 0.6%.

The biggest gainer, consumer staples, was up 0.4% on the day. Altria Group Inc. MO, +1.07%  rose 0.2% on the day while Coca-Cola Co. KO, +0.78%  rose 0.8%.

What are other markets doing?

Oil prices rose, with West Texas Intermediate CLG8, +0.92%  up 0.5% and on track for its highest close in 2 ½ years.

Metals were mixed, with gold GCG8, +0.73%  up 0.6% at $1,305.30 an ounce.

Asian stocks closed out 2017 in mostly upbeat fashion, while European markets struggled for direction.

— Sara Sjolin contributed to this article

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