Stocks edge lower on the last trading day of 2011

By Bernard Condon/The Associated Press

NEW YORK — The stock market is set to end a tumultuous year more or less where it started.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 55 points, or 0.4 percent, to 12,231 as of 2:30 p.m. Friday. The S&P 500 fell 3 points, or 0.3 percent, to 1,262. It’s up just 0.2 percent for 2011. The Nasdaq fell 4 points, or 0.1 percent, to 2,609.

McDonald’s Corp. is shaping up to be the biggest winner in the Dow this year with a gain of 31 percent. Bank of America Corp. is the worst, down 59 percent.

The conventional wisdom is the more risk, the greater the potential rewards. But the opposite is proving true this year: Investors playing it safe have gained the most.

The most dull and conservative of stocks — utilities — are up 16 percent, the largest gain of the ten sectors in the S&P 500. Other winning groups are consumer staples and health care companies, both up 11 percent in 2011.

In Europe, many of the biggest markets ended down for the year. Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 5.6 percent, Germany’s DAX 14.7 percent.

Trading has been quiet this week with many investors away on vacation. Volume on the New York Stock Exchange has been about half of its daily average. Markets will be closed Monday in observance of New Year’s Day.

Better news on the job market and home sales lifted stocks Thursday, pushing the Dow up 135 points. On Friday Ford reported that its sales topped 2 million this year for the first time since 2007. Ford fell 0.1 percent.

In other corporate news:

— Sears Holdings Corp. fell 2 percent to $32.28 after Fitch Ratings downgraded the company’s credit rating to “junk.” Sears has plunged 30 percent this week after disclosing that it would close more than 100 Sears and Kmart stores because of weak holiday sales.

— Diamond Foods Inc. jumped 5 percent to $33.04. Rumors have been circulating that the hedge fund manager David Einhorn has acquired a stake in the food company that makes Emerald Nuts.

— AMR Corp., the parent company of American Airlines, fell 16 cents to 35 cents. The company filed for bankruptcy protection last month. Late Thursday the company said its stock would be delisted from the New York Stock Exchange next week.