NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Just one last trading session left in 2011, then investors can sit back and let the January effect take over until it's time to sell in May and go away. Ah, the joys of market cliches! If only it were that simple. Think of all the volatility that would have been missed ... the higher highs, the lower lows! All that only to end up with the broadest measure of U.S. stocks -- the S&P 500 -- virtually unchanged from where it sat a year ago. A quick rundown of the major U.S. equity indices finds the Dow Jones Industrial Average sitting pretty ahead of the final opening bell of the year. Thanks to Thursday's rally, blue-chip index is up 6.13% for 2011, far outpacing both the S&P 500, up .43% on a price basis, and the Nasdaq Composite, which is down 1.48% after falling out of correlation with its brethren following Oracle's ( ORCL) disappointing quarter. So there is something rather important at stake on Friday, whether or not the S&P 500 will put 2011 in the books as an up or down year. Put well-known investor Dennis Gartman, who produces daily market commentary, in the bull camp. "Something clearly is going on here in the US that far too few investors are prepared to accept, but corporate America has done wonders with its balance sheet; has kept its work force 'lean and mean;' has worked inventories down to bare minimums; is attuned to paying out larger dividends than in the past and is generally fiscally more responsible," Gartman wrote early Friday. "A break upward through 1260-1265 in the S&P would be most impressive indeed. We expect it to happen... sooner rather than later." Retail investors are evidently feeling pretty good as well. The latest survey of the American Association of Individual Investors shows a sharp upswing in bullishness. The organization, which has more than 150,000 members, takes a poll each week asking how they feel about the direction of the S&P 500 over the next six months. For the week ended Dec. 28, the ranks of the bulls swelled to 40.6%, a sequential increase of 6.9 percentage points and slightly above a long-term average of 39%. The percentage of those feeling bearish rose as well though, reaching 30.8% after tacking on 2.6 points. The neutral camp, which was at multi-year highs last week, dropped 9.4 points to 28.6%, falling below its long-term average of 31%.
Heading into Friday's session, the Santa Claus rally has been a bit sluggish but it's still intact with the S&P 500, which has risen 75% of the time over the past 40 or so years in the span bridging the Christmas and New Years Day holidays, up 0.72% since closing at 1254 on Dec. 22. The average gain is 1.6%. The scheduled news is unsurprisingly light with the economic calendar clear, and no notable earnings reports expected. Sears Holdings ( SHLD) could come under even more pressure though after Fitch lowered its long-term credit rating on the struggling retailer to 'CCC' from 'B' and said the outlook is negative. "Liquidity is expected to remain adequate to fund 2012 working capital needs given current availability under the company's U.S. and Canadian facilities," the ratings agency said. "However, Sears may need to access external sources of financing to fund operations in 2013 and beyond, as the magnitude of the decline in profitability and lack of visibility to turn operations around remain a major concern." AMR Corp. ( AMR), the parent company of American Airlines, will also be in focus after the New York Stock Exchange said late Thursday it plans to delist the bankrupt airline's common stock and certain debt instruments. Trading on the Big Board will be suspended as of Jan. 5, and the company said it expects the stock to move to the Pink Sheets. -- Written by Michael Baron in New York. >To contact the writer of this article, click here: Michael Baron. >To submit a news tip, send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org