NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- No matter how this trading session swings, Wall Street can pop the champagne early with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite likely to close the year out with double-digit gains.
Barring any earth-shaking news, the S&P 500 will likely end the year 13% higher, the Nasdaq Composite with gains of 14%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average having added 9%.
"The economy entering the New Year is in better shape than previously thought and is likely to escape a serious downturn in 2015," Peter Cardillo, chief economist at Rockwell Capital, wrote in a research note. "We reiterate our positive outlook for stocks in 2015, as expanding U.S. growth remains favorable for growing corporate earnings."
The late-year rally that pushed markets to new records had a little more gas in the final trading session of the year. The S&P 500 was 0.22% higher, the Dow added 0.23% and the Nasdaq Composite climbed 0.58%.
Markets were shaking off disappointing weekly jobless claims data, which climbed 17,000 to 298,000 for the week ended Dec. 27. Economists had expected 290,000 new filings for unemployment benefits for the week.
However, on a trend basis, initial claims have improved over the past two weeks, according to RBC Economics economist Josh Nye.
"The current four-week moving average is once again below levels that prevailed throughout the third quarter, thereby providing further evidence of a healthy labor market heading into 2015," he wrote in a report.
Pending home sales increased 0.8% in November, recovering from a 1.1% fall a month earlier. The reading came in better than the 0.5% rise economists had expected.
Oil prices recovered from session lows as U.S. crude inventories fell 1.8 million barrels for the week, a wider drop than analysts anticipated.
West Texas Intermediate crude dropped 1.6% to $53.22, still on track for its biggest annual decline in six years. The commodity has been in freefall as supply outpaced global demand and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries refused to limit future production.
In international markets, the Shanghai Composite popped more than 2%, cementing its position as the world's best-performing major market this year after jumping more than 50%.
Earlier, China's factory activity contracted, falling to a seven-month low of 49.6 this month, according to the HSBC/Markit purchasing managers' index. The region's economic strength has been called into doubt as it faces flagging industrial growth.
In company news, China-based Fosun International said that it will purchase Meadowbrook Insurance Group (MIG) for $433 million to strengthen its insurance unit and expand into the United States. The offer represents a 21% premium over Meadowbrooks' Tuesday closing price. Meadowbank shares surged 19.8%.
GrubHub (GRUB) was moving 1.7% higher on an upgrade to "outperform" from Barrington Research. Analyst Jeffrey Houston upgraded the stock on the belief that the Internet service could become an acquisition target to potential suitors Amazon (AMZN) , Google (GOOGL) or Priceline (PCLN) .
Digital-media company Perion Network (PERI) dropped more than 2% after receiving a downgrade to "neutral" from Chardan Capital. Sigma Designs (SIGM) spiked 6.6% as Needham analysts hiked their price target to $8 and reiterated a "buy" rating.
-- Written by Keris Alison Lahiff in New York.