Wall Street ended the week with a moderate advance today in light post-holiday trading after the government threw a lifeline to General...

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NEW YORK — Wall Street ended the week with a moderate advance today in light post-holiday trading after the government threw a lifeline to General Motors’ finance arm. But while the market did manage an advance, dreary holiday spending readings are dimming the chances for a big year-end rally.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 47.07, or 0.6 percent, at 8,515.55. Broader market indexes also edged higher. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index was up 4.65, or 0.5 percent, to 872.80. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index gained 5.34, or 0.4 percent, to 1,530.24.

Americans spent much less this season than they did last year, according to SpendingPulse, a division of MasterCard Advisors. Personal consumption is a huge part of U.S. economic activity, so Wall Street is nervous that a frugal consumer could keep the economy weak in 2009.

Investors did react well to news on Christmas Eve that the Federal Reserve had allowed GMAC Financial Services to become a bank holding company and thus qualify for the government’s $700 billion rescue fund.

There was little conviction in the market today, and stocks meandered for much of the session, with the Nasdaq composite index moving in and out of positive territory. With just three full trading days left in the year, no news has been upbeat enough to spark a big year-end rally, a consequence of the great uncertainty still in the market. December is usually a strong month for stocks, and a flurry of trading known as a “Santa Claus rally” is often seen in the final week.

“I think we could have a year-end rally, but it’s got a formidable headwind in the form of tax-selling, in my view,” said Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisors.

Tax-loss selling is when investors sell their poorly performing stocks to realize a loss for the year, which can reduce their taxes in upcoming years.

As the year winds down, investors are flummoxed over what 2009 might bring. Some market analysts are predicting a stock market recovery, and others are predicting more volatility; but nearly all are doing so with the caveat that anything is possible.

“It’s hard to imagine another year that is going to be as dismal or dark or bad as 2008,” Johnson said. “It’s even hard to imagine that we have another down year in 2009 — the odds are the stock market will be higher at the end of 2009. Common sense tells you that.”

The Dow is down 36 percent for the year.

But, Johnson added, it’s impossible to forecast the end of a bear market, and “confidence can turn on a dime.”

On Friday, the dollar was down against other major currencies, while gold prices rose.

Demand for government bonds increased. The three-month Treasury bill’s yield fell to 0.01 percent from 0.02 percent late Wednesday, and the 10-year Treasury note’s yield fell to 2.16 percent from 2.19 percent.

Light, sweet crude rose $2.43 to $37.78 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude prices had tumbled Wednesday for the ninth straight day — dipping as low as $35.13 — after gloomy economic reports and growing stockpiles of unused gasoline suggesting eroded demand.