U.S. stocks tumbled Wednesday after early gains, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average below the 18,000-point level, but still ended 2014 with solid gains.
The Dow dropped 160.00 points, or 0.89 percent, to 17,823.07. The S&P 500 lost 21.45 points, or 1.03 percent, to 2,058.90. The Nasdaq Composite Index slipped 41.39 points, or 0.87 percent, to 4, 736.05.
Following the stellar run of last year, U.S. stocks surged further into new-high territory in 2014 after having weathered a number of headwinds, such as geopolitical tensions, weak global growth, the end of the Fed's quantitative easing program and tumbling oil prices.
For 2014, the Dow went up 7.5 percent, the sixth year in a row that ended positive. The S&P 500 rose 11.4 percent and the Nasdaq advanced 13.4 percent, both gaining for three consecutive years. Utilities were the strongest sector of the year, up more than 24 percent, while the energy sector had the worst performance with a loss of 10 percent.
Economic data came in slightly disappointing. U.S. jobless claims last week rose more than expected. The number of Americans who initially applied for jobless benefits jumped 17,000 to a seasonally adjusted 298,000 in the week ending Dec. 27, said the Labor Department on Wednesday. Analysts had forecast a smaller increase to 290,000.
Moreover, the Chicago Business Barometer fell 2.5 points to a five-month low of 58.3 in December, as production and both ordering components expanded at the slowest pace since July, said the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago in a report.
However, the Pending Home Sales Index, a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, increased 0.8 percent to 104. 8 in November from a slightly downwardly revised 104.0 in October, beating market expectations, said the National Association of Realtors Wednesday.
Overseas, European stocks advanced in a half-day session Wednesday, posting about 4 percent gains for the year. In Asia, Chinese Shanghai Composite index regained momentum to soar 2.2 percent on Wednesday, notching a 53-percent yearly increase.
Trading volume was light in U.S. stock markets, as investors avoid making big moves to adjust their positions in the last trading session of the year.
U.S. stock markets will be closed Thursday for the New Year's Day holiday.
The CBOE Volatility Index, a gauge of fear in the market, spiked 20.60 percent to end at 19.20.
In other markets, the U.S. dollar climbed against most major currencies on Wednesday amid speculation that the Fed may raise interest rates next year.
The greenback headed toward its best year since 2005 as the upward momentum of U.S. economy has well bolstered market speculation that the central bank would raise interest rates before mid-2015.