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What to expect on the last day of trading this year

North American markets look set to wrap up the 2014 trading year on a positive note Wednesday even as oil prices hit a fresh 5 1/2 year low in the wake of data that suggested China’s economy is slowing.The Canadian dollar gained 0.21 of a cent to 86.36 cents US. New York futures advanced with the Dow Jones industrial futures ahead 13 points to 17,954, the Nasdaq futures climbed 5.5 points to 4,288.3 while the S&P 500 futures rose 2.9 points to 2,079.6. Oil and metal prices declined after a survey of Chinese manufacturers found their activity contracted in December. HSBC’s monthly purchasing managers’ index crossed the 50 threshold and fell to 49.6. Markets were expecting that outcome since a preliminary version of the survey released earlier in the month also showed a contraction but the confirmation underpinned hopes for more government stimulus in China. The February crude contract in New York dropped $1.04 to US$53.08 a barrel. Another indication of high oil inventory levels also helped depress prices after the American Petroleum Institute said weekly total U.S. crude stockpiles rose by 760,000 barrels last week. Analysts had looked for a seasonal decline. They’re now looking ahead to the release of Department of Energy data due out mid-morning, which is expected to show a drop of 600,000 barrels in U.S. oil stockpiles. Elsewhere on the commodity markets, March copper gave back a cent to US$2.84 a pound while February gold faded $1.30 to US$1,199.10. Trading on the London Stock Exchange will end at 12:30 p.m. local time, and NYSE Euronext’s European cash markets will close 35 minutes later. The Madrid bourse will stop trading at 2 p.m. local time. Exchanges in Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the Nordic countries are closed. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits rose more than expected last week, but not enough to change views of a sustained strength in the labor market. Initial claims for state unemployment benefits increased by 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 for the week ended Dec. 27, the Labor Department said on Wednesday. That followed four straight weeks of declines. After the market opens, there will be a read on pending home sales for November and the December Chicago Purchasing Managers Index. Home sales are seen up 0.5 per cent while the Chicago PMI index is expected to dip modestly. The Toronto market looks set to end 2014 with a gain of around 7.5 per cent. That’s about half the advance that the TSX had racked up by mid-summer, supported by a huge runup in the energy sector as crude prices came close to the US$110 a barrel level. The energy sector is now the major TSX laggard, having fallen almost 20 per cent as investors wonder how low oil prices can go. Miners were also a major weight with the base metals group down 14 per cent this year, reflecting lower demand for metals. Copper, for example has plunged 16 per cent this year. Bright spots include financials, up nine per cent for the year. But the best performers are those sectors benefitting from much lower gasoline prices and a Canadian dollar depressed by falling oil prices. These include the consumer discretionary sector, up 26 per cent and consumer staples, which ran ahead 45 per cent. Industrials have also been a major winner, ahead 17 per cent. U.S. markets had a better year with the Dow up eight per cent, the Nasdaq ahead 14 per cent and the S&P 500 ahead 12 per cent, even as the Federal Reserve wrapped up its massive program of buying bonds and mortgage-backed securities that kept long-term interest rates low. read more