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U.S. Stock Futures Tick Down in Final Trading Day of 2020

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U.S. stock futures ticked down Thursday, signaling a muted finish to a year that saw the major indexes contract sharply in the spring before snapping back to cinch record highs.

Futures tied to the S&P 500 and contracts linked to the Dow Jones Industrial Average edged 0.1% lower, indicating that gauges may take a breather in the final day of trading for 2020. Nasdaq-100 index futures were largely flat. Trading volumes have eased this week with many people taking year-end holidays.

The tepid end belies a year that saw stocks bounce back since the March rout despite the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. The unprecedented steps taken by major central banks to bolster credit flow and the increase in governments’ spending encouraged investors to focus on growth opportunities despite the economic havoc.

That helped the three major indexes notch 100 record closes so far in 2020, with the Dow hitting its 13th all time finishing high of the year on Wednesday.

“When you look at the entire year, you could say policy makers drowned the black swan,” said

Carsten Brzeski,
global head of macro research at ING Groep.

The Nasdaq Composite Index is on track for its best annual performance since 2009.

The Nasdaq Composite Index is on track for its best annual performance since 2009.

Photo: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg News

The sharp rally in recent weeks reflects investors’ optimism about the prospects for next year, he added. “There is a hope we will see this synchronized global recovery in 2021.”

Money managers are hoping that the widespread rollout of vaccines will allow for the resumption of normal social and business activity, helping accelerate the economic rebound next year. Central banks and governments are also widely expected to continue providing additional support to the economy.

“The market believes, next year, that everything is going to be good,” said

James Athey,
investment manager at Aberdeen Standard Investments. Investors are betting that “equity markets cannot go down because they are underwritten by better growth, more fiscal and more monetary policy. Today’s price already includes the good news of tomorrow.”

Trading on Thursday is also likely to be particularly muted as money managers hold off on making any big changes to portfolios ahead of the new year. U.S. and European markets will be closed Friday for New Year’s Day.

Some of the biggest concerns of the year—such as hopes for Covid-19 vaccines, uncertainty around the November presidential elections, deteriorating U.S.-China trade relations, and the outcome of the U.K.’s negotiations with the European Union for a new trade deal—have abated in recent weeks, investors said.

“Everything has settled now,” said Mr. Brzeski. “For market participants, this is the moment to relax and recover.”

In bond markets, the yield on the 10-year Treasury note was little changed at 0.923%, compared with 0.926% Wednesday.

Data on how many Americans applied for unemployment benefits for the first time through the week ended Dec. 26 are due at 8:30 a.m. ET. Economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal are expecting weekly jobless claims to have edged higher, as a surge of coronavirus cases across the U.S. has prompted some states to impose new restrictions on businesses.

Overseas, the pan-continental Stoxx Europe 600 declined 0.3%.

In Asia, China’s Shanghai Composite gained 1.7% by the close of trading, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng ticked up 0.3%.

Write to Caitlin Ostroff at caitlin.ostroff@wsj.com