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Stocks open flat as Wall Street wraps up a wild year of trading

Stocks were largely flat on Thursday as Wall Street wrapped up one of the most volatile years for the market in recent memory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average traded just 5 points lower, or 0.03%. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite were marginally higher.

Investors digested on Thursday a better-than-expected reading on U.S. weekly jobless claims. The number of first-time unemployment-benefits filers totaled 787,000 for the week ending Dec. 26, the Labor Department said Thursday. Economists polled by Dow Jones were expecting a print of 828,000.

The muted move in stocks comes at the end of a relatively quiet week on Wall Street, capping a remarkable year for the stock market.

Equities fell sharply in February and March as the Covid pandemic spread outside of China. The S&P 500 suffered its most rapid 30% drawdown on record.

But after bottoming out in late March, and amid unprecedented action by the Federal Reserve to shore up the credit markets, stocks rebounded dramatically and have ripped off a series of record highs before the end of year.

Ahead of the final session of 2020, the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite has gained 43.44% year to date, while the S&P 500 and Dow have risen15.52% and 6.56%, respectively.

The latest leg higher for the market has been fueled by the rollout of vaccines and a new economic relief package from Congress, though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has blocked efforts to increase the amount of direct stimulus payments to $2,000 from $600.

A rising worry in recent weeks is a new strain of the deadly virus that was first identified in the UK and has been confirmed in Colorado and California. UK officials have said the strain appears to be more contagious than earlier versions of the virus.

However, experts and health policy leaders have said that the existing vaccines should be effective against the new strain. Some have also said that companies should be able to adjust the vaccines to work against new strains if that is necessary.

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