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2013 a year of unstoppable stocks

The stock market was unstoppable in 2013.

A U.S. government shutdown, fear of a default, the threat of military action in Syria, big budget cuts and a European country looking for a bailout -- any number of events might have derailed the stock market. But they didn't.

And if skittish investors jumped out of stocks, they lost out.

"2013 would have been a good year to wear noise-canceling headphones," says Dean Junkans, chief investment officer for Wells Fargo Private Bank. "There were a lot of things that happened, and the market kept moving higher."

The Standard & Poor's 500 index had its best year since 1997, ending up 29.6 percent. The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 26.5 percent, its best gain since 1995. Combined, the two indexes closed at record highs on 97 occasions.

Investors focused on the Federal Reserve and the outlook for its stimulus program.

The Fed bought $85 billion in government bonds each month in 2013. The purchases were designed to hold down long-term borrowing rates and encourage spending and investment. The stimulus also prodded investors to move from low-yielding bonds to stocks.

Investors reacted to every twist and turn of the program's fate. They sold stocks in the spring and summer over fears the central bank would slow its bond-buying prematurely.

In December, as hiring grew consistently stronger, investors were confident enough in the economy to react positively when Fed officials finally decided to dial back purchases. The Fed also reassured the market by signaling it would keep short-term rates near zero. The stock market, which had hovered below all-time highs, returned to record territory.

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