World markets bring strong year to a close

LONDON (AP) — Major global stock markets closed out a strong 2013 at or near record highs as New Year's Eve festivities kicked off Tuesday.

The 2013 calendar year was marked by high volatility and a remarkable rally in the later months, when the U.S. Federal Reserve buoyed sentiment by keeping its stimulus program intact for longer than expected and promising that interest rates would remain low in the coming months.

The Fed's decisions are "still providing investors with the confidence to buy into the rally," said Craig Erlam, analyst at Alpari. In Europe, the British and French markets, which traded for half a day, ended on a positive note. The FTSE 100 rose 0.3 percent to 6,749.09 to end the year with a 14.4 percent gain. The CAC-40 in Paris increased 0.5 percent to 4,295.95 for an 18 percent rise on the year.

Germany's Dax, which like Italian, Swiss and Nordic exchanges had its last trading day on Monday, was among the strongest performers in 2013, with a 25.5 percent rise that put it at a record high last week.

But it was Ireland's index that did best in Europe, with a 33.8 percent gain, as the country emerged from its financial bailout program. That was still no match for Japan's index, which soared 56.7 percent — its biggest annual gain in 41 years — thanks to a massive stimulus program aimed at dragging the country out of a two-decade stagnation. The Japanese market closed Monday at its highest level in more than six years and was closed Tuesday for the holiday.

On Wall Street, the main indexes rose despite thin trading volumes. The Dow traded 0.2 percent higher at 16,541.23 and the S&P 500 increased 0.2 percent to 1,845.36. That puts them on track for huge gains for the year — 26.2 percent for the Dow, its strongest annual run since 1996, and 29.4 percent for the S&P 500, its best since 1997.

In Asia, Japan's stellar year contrasted with a disappointing one for China, where the Shanghai Composite index ended with a 6.8 percent annual loss. China saw losses this year when there were concerns over the stability of its financial system.

Elsewhere, Hong Kong's Hang Seng index gained 0.3 percent to close at 23,306.39, giving it a 2.9 percent annual rise. Share prices rose in Malaysia, Singapore and India but fell in Australia, New Zealand and Taiwan.

In foreign exchange markets, the dollar was virtually unchanged against the Japanese yen, which slumped in value this year due to the country's loosened monetary policy. The dollar bought 104.95 yen on Tuesday, up from around 87 at the start of the year.

The euro slipped 0.2 percent to $1.3786, having risen from around $1.3100 at the start of 2013 as confidence in the currency bloc improved. The price of crude oil slipped further below $100, with the benchmark U.S. contract for February delivery down 67 cents at $98.62 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

AP Business Writer Elaine Kurtenbach contributed from Tokyo.

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