Wall Street had a merciful end to a dreadful year as stocks closed the last session of 2008 today with a moderate advance. The Dow Jones industrial...

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NEW YORK — Wall Street had a merciful end to a dreadful year as stocks closed the last session of 2008 today with a moderate advance.

The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 108.00, or 1.3 percent, at 8,776.39.

Broader stock indicators also rose. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index gained 12.61, or 1.4 percent, to 903.25, and the Nasdaq composite index rose 26.33, or 1.7 percent, to 1,577.03.

Trading proceeded quietly because many investors have closed their books on the year. The Dow is down 34 percent for 2008, while broader indexes are down about 40 percent. It marks the worst year for the Dow since 1931. Wall Street is hoping the economy will rebound in the second half of 2009.

The market was heartened by a government report that initial applications for unemployment benefits fell by 94,000 to 492,000 for the week ending Dec. 27. The drop, which partly reflects seasonal adjustment difficulties tied to the Christmas holiday, was greater than analysts had expected. But the number of people still claiming benefits has climbed to the highest level since 1982.

Today’s gains couldn’t erase the enormous losses of the past 12 months but investors would nonetheless like to hold or add to the sizable gains made Tuesday when financial shares led stocks higher.

“The tone is less onerous for stocks,” said Steven Goldman, chief market strategist, Weeden & Co. in Greenwich, Conn. He said lighter volume and relief that the year is over is likely aiding the market’s advance.

“There’s maybe a little bit of optimism,” he said. “We all start the track record over again.”

Bond price tumbled today as stocks advanced. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note, which moves opposite its price, jumped to 2.22 percent from 2.06 percent late Tuesday. The yield on the three-month T-bill, considered one of the safest investments, rose to 0.11 percent from 0.06 percent Tuesday.

The dollar was mixed against other major currencies, while gold prices fell.

Light, sweet crude rose $4.40 to $43.43 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

Overseas, Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 0.94 percent and France’s CAC-40 added 0.03 percent. Markets in Japan and Germany were closed for holidays.