Global markets end 2015 with a whimper

 Foam bull figures in front of the German DAX Index board during the last trading day at Frankfurt's stock exchange.
Foam bull figures in front of the German DAX Index board during the last trading day at Frankfurt's stock exchange.PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - World stock markets on Thursday ended 2015 with a whimper after sharp volatility sparked by China's slowdown, euro zone stimulus, the Greek crisis, rising US rates and a commodities rout.

"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.

"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 per cent in value. London's commodities-heavy shares index was however down 5 per cent.

In light holiday trade on Thursday, the British capital's FTSE 100 finished 0.51 per cent lower. The French CAC 40 ended down 0.9 per cent.

In March, the ECB launched a €1.1-trillion (S$1.7 trillion) stimulus to help lift consumer prices. The QE programme to buy sovereign bonds at a rate of €60 billion 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 EU bailout that saved it from crashing out of the euro zone.

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 per cent in holiday-shortened deals.

However, the DAX finished 2015 with an impressive annual gain of 9.56 per cent.

Frankfurt could have risen even more sharply if it had not been for German carmaker Volkswagen, hurt by a pollution-cheating scandal, dealers said.

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 US$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 per cent in 12 months crashed more than 40 per cent, with profit-taking and concerns about high valuations also stoking worries.

On Thursday, Hong Kong stocks ended up 0.2 percent, but lost more than 7 per cent over the year.

Shanghai closed down 0.9 per cent, drawing to a close one of the most painful years in its 25-year history but still ending it 9.4 per cent higher. Tokyo and Seoul were closed.

London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.5 per cent at 6,242 points (close)

Paris - CAC 40: DOWN 0.7 per cent at 4,643 points

Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 1.1 per cent at 10,743 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.4 per cent at 3,276

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.3 per cent at 19,033 (close)

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.7 per cent at 17,603 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0922 from $1.0932 late Wednesday

Dollar/yen: DOWN to 120.41 yen from 120.52 yen