NEW YORK - The stock market ended a tumultuous year right where it started. In the final tally, despite all its big rises and falls, unexpected blows and surprising triumphs, the hullabaloo proved for naught.
On Friday, the Standard & Poor's 500 index was down 5.42 points, or 0.43 percent, to close at 1,257.60. That is exactly 0.04 point below where it started the year.
"If you fell asleep January 1 and woke up today, you'd think nothing had happened," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Harris Private Bank.
On Friday, the Dow Jones industrial average lost 69.48 points, or 0.57 percent, to close at 12,217.56. For the year, the Dow closed up 5.53 percent.
The Nasdaq composite index fell 8.59 points, or 0.33 percent, to close at 2,605.15 Friday. For the year, it was down 1.8 percent.
This was the year U.S. companies were supposed to run out of ways to make big profits. But they did not, and produced more than ever.
Among market sectors, there were some surprising winners. Scaredy-cat investors who bought the most conservative and dullest of stocks - utilities - gained 15 percent this year, the biggest price rise of the 10 industry sectors in the S&P 500. Other winning groups were consumer staples, up 11 percent, and health-care companies, 10 percent.
U.S. stock markets delivered little this year, but other markets did even worse, including those in fast-growing economies. Brazil's Bovespa index fell 18 percent in 2011. Hong Kong's Hang Seng dropped 20 percent. In Europe, many of the biggest markets ended down in 2011: Britain's FTSE 100 lost 5.6 percent; Germany's DAX, 14.7 percent.
And "buy American" was back. A broad index of the Treasury market gained 9.6 percent, despite the fact that the U.S. government is now slightly less likely to repay its debt, at least according to Standard & Poor's. In August, the rating agency stripped the United States of its triple-A rating, citing mounting debt and political squabbling about a solution.
Despite disappointments, the last three months of the year were impressive for the stock markets, which could bode well for 2012. The S&P 500 rose 11 percent. And the Dow climbed 1,344 points, or 12 percent, for the largest quarterly point gain in its history.