US stocks lower in last session of 2015

NEW YORK (AFP) - US stocks fell in early trade on Thursday as the broad-based S&P 500 tried to eke out a gain for 2015 in the final trading session of the year.

About 30 minutes into trade, the S&P 500 stood at 2,052.82, down 10.54 points (0.51 per cent) and about six points below its closing price of 2014.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 88.14 (0.5 per cent) to 17,515.73, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index lost 30.21 (0.6 per cent) at 5,035.64.

Analysts described trading volume as light and said investors were fixated on sinking oil prices as well as an increase in jobless claims to a nearly six-month high.

"One must not forget... that the market was coming off three consecutive years of double-digit returns," said analyst Patrick O'Hare.

"So a flat year on the heels of that strong move isn't really all that bad."

The Dow Jones Industrial Average is off close to 2 per cent for the year, while the Nasdaq continues to hold a gain of more than 6 per cent.

US stocks performance has been badly dented by the rout in oil prices, which was at the heart of nearly a 25 per cent drop in energy equities, according to figures Wednesday from S&P Capital IQ.

The other industrial category to fall significantly was materials, which includes commodity producers like Alcoa and chemical companies such as Dow.

Categories with gains included consumer discretionary, up 9.5 per cent and health care, up 6.2 per cent after a wave of merger announcements.