LONDON: European stock markets ended 2019 with a quietly softer tone on Tuesday (Dec 31), but traders were still able to look back on a highly profitable year for equity investors.
Key markets in Europe showed increases of 25 per cent or more over the year, partly thanks to late surges on receding recession fears and easing China-US trade war tensions.
Brexit-hit London, however, trailed its peers with a 12 per cent annual rise, less than half the percentage increase managed by Paris, Frankfurt and Milan.
On Wall Street all main indices opened lower, but the weaker tone hardly made a dent in the year's overall gains standing at 22 per cent for the Dow Jones, 29 per cent for the S&P 500 and a whopping 35 per cent for the Nasdaq.
"It has been a year for rallies in equities," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG trading group.
"We endured plenty of Brexit and trade war headlines in 2019, but these will go with us into next year, ensuring more volatility for traders and investors."
Asian stock markets also closed mainly lower on Tuesday, with Hong Kong ending a half-day of trading almost 0.5 per cent down, although the bourse rallied more than seven per cent in December. Tokyo was shut for a public holiday.
"While market volumes are predictably light, investors continue to strike a year-end cautionary tone as December optimism is gradually giving way to 2020's uncertainty," Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at AxiTrader, said in a client note.
Asian investors were also watching for key policy announcements early in the New Year.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is set to give his New Year's speech on Wednesday, with all eyes on nuclear-armed Pyongyang's threat of a "new way" after its end-of-year deadline for sanctions relief from the US, analysts said.
An address by China's Xi Jinping will be followed closely by the markets as well.
A SKINNY DEAL
On Monday, media reports said the US and China would shortly sign a partial trade deal, with White House economic aide Peter Navarro telling Fox News the signing could occur "within a week or two".
"The P1 (phase one) deal is still 'skinny' relative to a full trade de-escalation scenario," cautioned AxiTrader's Innes.
"Investors will then press to consider the P2 risks, after all - how much more progress can be realistically expected ahead of the US elections next year?"
Elsewhere on Tuesday, oil prices slid despite reports Iran had seized a vessel suspected of smuggling fuel near the Strait of Hormuz - a chokepoint for a third of the world's seaborne oil.
Over the year, the price of Brent North Sea crude jumped by almost one quarter and New York benchmark contract WTI soared more than one third in value, helped by a tighter supply situation.
The pound finished a volatile year with gains on Tuesday against the dollar and euro.
Key figures around 1545 GMT:
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.6 per cent at 7,542.44 points (close)
Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.1 per cent at 5,978.06 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5 per cent at 28,189.75 (close)
Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.3205 from US$1.3113 at 2200 GMT
Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.00 pence from 85.40 pence
Euro/dollar: UP at US$1.1268 from US$1.1199
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 108.59 from 108.88 yen
Brent Crude: DOWN 1.4 per cent at US$65.76 per barrel
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.6 per cent at US$60.68 per barrel