Stocks moved off of session lows by mid-afternoon on the final trading day of the year, though a negative 2015 still looked to be in the cards.
Thursday's session will determine whether the S&P 500 ends the year with gains or losses. At midday, the benchmark index was down 0.12% for the year. The Dow was down 1.6% and the Nasdaq was up 7% for 2015.
Equities have been on a wild ride this year, with driving forces including geopolitical fears in the Middle East, risk of default in Greece, a slowing Chinese economy, the Federal Reserve's first rate increase in nearly a decade, and the overall threat of plunging oil prices.
"Volatile and lackluster," said Jeff Kravetz, investment director of the Private Client Reserve of U.S. Bank, summarizing 2015 in a phone call with TheStreet. "It's been overall a disappointing year for investors, and I think a lot of that was due to the high volatility that we experienced over the summer and then more recently with the Fed on and off."
The number of new claims for unemployment benefits rose 20,000 to 287,000 for the week ended Dec. 26, according to the Labor Department. Economists had expected jobless claims to increase to just 270,000. The job market has shown robust growth this year, one of the reasons the Fed felt justified in raising rates earlier in the month.
Economic activity in the Chicago area fell at its fastest pace in December since 2009, according to the latest Chicago PMI numbers. The index fell to 42.9 from 48.7 in November, falling further into contractionary territory. Activity in the Midwest has spent much of the year in contraction.
Crude oil prices were little changed on Thursday after big swings earlier in the week. West Texas Intermediate crude oil has tumbled more than 30% this year as record production from the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries kept oversupply fears in focus, while a weakened Chinese economy inflamed demand concerns. WTI crude oil was trading at $36.75 a barrel on Thursday morning.
Lockheed Martin (LMT) - Get Report shares moved lower by 0.88%, though the Pentagon awarded the defense company with a $1.1 billion contract to build 32 C-130J aircrafts. The vehicles are often used for special operations, aerial refueling and search-and-rescue missions. The project is expected to be completed by April 2020.
Chimerix (CMRX) - Get Report added 6.1% after billionaire Steven Cohen's investment firm Point72 Asset Management disclosed a 5.3% stake in the biotech company. Shares tanked 80% earlier this week after the company said its antiviral drug had failed to reduce infection in stem-cell transplant patients.