Dec 31, 2013 3:14 PM by AP
NEW YORK (AP) - Stocks headed higher in afternoon trading Tuesday as investors closed out their positions on the last day of 2013. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was headed for its best annual return since 1997.
Traders worked through a report that showed U.S. consumer confidence rose far more than expected in December.
KEEPING SCORE: The Dow Jones industrial average was up 31 points, or 0.2 percent, to 16,535 as of 2:30 p.m. Eastern. The S&P 500 was up three points, or 0.2 percent, to 1,844 and the Nasdaq composite was up 15 points, or 0.4 percent, to 4,169.
LAST ECONOMIC REPORTS: An index measuring U.S. consumer confidence rose to 78.1 in December, according to the Conference Board, better than the 76 figure economists expected. Consumer spending is especially important in December when shoppers are buying gifts for the holidays.
A STELLAR YEAR: Stock investors were rewarded in 2013 with the best year since the 1990s. The S&P 500 is on pace to close up 29.5 percent for the year, or 31.9 percent when dividends are included, the best year since 1997.
TWO WEEKS OF GAINS: Stocks have been climbing steadily since Dec. 18, when the Federal Reserve said it would start paring back, or "tapering," its economic stimulus as the U.S. economy improves.
"QUIET RALLY": "Since the Fed announced it was tapering its stimulus program two weeks ago, investors that were underinvested in stocks have pulled out of gold and bonds and moved it into stocks," said J.J. Kinahan, chief strategist with TD Ameritrade. "It's a quiet rally."
LITTLE ACTIVITY: Unlike most overseas markets, U.S. exchanges are open for a full day of trading Tuesday. While there may be some last-minute buying and selling, most investors have closed their positions for 2013. Volume has been 40 percent lower than average during the last five trading days of 2013.
A TARNISHED YEAR FOR GOLD: The price of gold edged down $1.50 to $1,202.30 an ounce. Gold has been one the worst-performing investments this year. The metal is down 28 percent in 2013, its worst year since 1981. With the U.S. economy improving and stocks performing so well, gold is likely to remain under pressure, Kinahan said.
CLOSED FOR THE HOLIDAY: The New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq Stock Market, and bond and commodities markets will be closed on New Year's Day. The first day of trading for 2014 will be Thursday, however activity is not expected to pick up until next week.