“After a year that began so promisingly the markets are wrapping up 2015 in the limpest way possible, a collective sigh instead of any attempt at New Year’s Eve fireworks,” said Spreadex analyst Connor Campbell.
Asian equities limped across the finish line after a tumultuous 2015 that also witnessed a summer meltdown on the battered Chinese stock exchange.
European and US markets had enjoyed a record-breaking run at the start of the year, boosted by the expectation and then delivery of European Central Bank’s quantitative easing (QE) stimulus.
Investors fretted on uncertainty over the Federal Reserve’s first interest rate hike in almost a decade, but the bank eventually hiked borrowing costs in December amid growing confidence in the US economic recovery.
China’s economic slowdown also plagued trading floors in 2015 and sent commodities reeling because the Asian giant is a top consumer of many raw materials.
Oil prices collapsed on global oversupply and demand fears, culminating in an 11-year low for Brent crude last week.
‘Euphoric’ atmosphere sours
“There have been two distinct periods to the markets this year; the first third ... of 2015 saw the European and US markets all surge to fresh all-time highs, prompted by the promise, and delivery, of (ECB chief) Mario Draghi’s long awaited quantitative easing plan,” Campbell told AFP.
“Yet as the year went on, the euphoric trading atmosphere began to sour, the Greek saga that played havoc with the European indices compounded by the dual pressures of August’s dramatic Chinese crash and the impending US rate hike.
“Even as the Greek issue was resolved, jitters about the world’s two biggest economies” persisted in the second half of 2015.
Over the course of the year, Frankfurt -- closed Thursday -- and Paris have won almost 10% in value. London’s commodities-heavy shares index was however down 5.0%.
In light holiday trade on Thursday, the British capital’s FTSE 100 finished 0.51% lower. The French CAC 40 ended down 0.9%.
In New York, the Dow Jones Industrial Average also dropped on Thursday, with analysts describing trading volume as light and saying investors were fixated on sinking oil prices as well as an increase in jobless claims to a nearly six-month high.
In March, the ECB launched a 1.1-trillion-euro (RM5.1 trillion) stimulus to help lift consumer prices. The QE programme to buy sovereign bonds at a rate of 60 billion euros (RM280.1bil) a month runs until at least September 2016.
Markets were rocked this year by Greece’s financial crisis. In July, Athens accepted a three-year, 86-billion-euro (RM401.5bil) EU bailout that saved it from crashing out of the eurozone.
The ECB meanwhile delivered an interest rate cut in early December and expanded stimulus measures, but the moves were not as bold as investors had hoped.
Germany’s DAX 30 index had its final trading session on Wednesday, ending with a loss of 1.1% in holiday-shortened deals.
However, the DAX finished 2015 with an impressive annual gain of 9.56%.
Frankfurt could have risen even more sharply if it had not been for German carmaker Volkswagen, hurt by a pollution-cheating scandal, dealers said.
China ‘key for outlook’
Looking ahead, China remains central to the outlook for global markets, according to VTB Capital economist Neil MacKinnon.
“China remains key to the outlook for the global economy and global financial markets,” he told AFP.
“In spite of tentative signs that the Chinese economy might be stabilising there are still challenges posed by very high levels of credit and debt.
“Commodity prices are also key. A further decline in the oil price (to perhaps $20 per barrel) could present additional problems.”
The slowdown in China’s growth, and fears about Beijing’s ability to manage it, sent shudders through global markets in the summer, slicing trillions off valuations. The Shanghai index, which had soared 150% in 12 months crashed more than 40%, with profit-taking and concerns about high valuations also stoking worries.
On Thursday, Hong Kong stocks ended up 0.2%, but lost more than 7% over the year.
Shanghai closed down 0.9%, drawing to a close one of the most painful years in its 25-year history but still ending it 9.4% higher. Tokyo and Seoul were closed.
Key figures around 1700 GMT (1:00am Malaysian time, Friday)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5% at 6,242 points (close)
Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.7% at 4,643 points (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 1.1% at 10,743 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.4% at 3,276
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.3% at 19,033 (close)
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.4% at 17,529.62
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0864 from $1.0932 late Wednesday
Dollar/yen: DOWN to 120.23 yen from 120.52 yen. - AFP