Investors were in a cautious mood after data showed that China's factories lost some momentum in December, adding to fears that the world's second-largest economy may soften in the new year.
Economic data in the United States wasn't all that positive either. Manufacturing activity grew in December, but at a slightly slower pace than the previous month, according to the Institute for Supply Management's index. Initial jobless claims fell for a second straight week but came in slightly higher than expectations.
Trading volume will likely remain light this week as many traders are still away for the holidays.
On the corporate front, shares of Fiat ( jumped 16% in Milan after the Italian automaker announced Wednesday it was buying )full control of Chrysler.
A series of upgrades and downgrades from Wall Street analysts sent a number of big stocks moving.
Shares of Apple (Fortune 500) slid after Wells Fargo downgraded the iPhone maker to "market-perform" from "outperform." ,
Sprint (Fortune 500) moved lower following a downgrade from Cowen & Co. ,
A downgrade from Jefferies sent shares Abercrombie & Fitch ( lower, while an upgrade of )Urban Outfitters ( boosted that retailer's shares. )
Bank of America (Fortune 500) shares gained ground after Citigroup analysts upgraded the stock to a "buy" from "neutral." ,
Traders on StockTwits thought Bank of America's strong start to the year could mean good things for the financial sector in 2014.
While most stocks were lower Thursday, gold started off on a strong note, rising almost 2%. The precious metal fell 28% in 2013, marking the first down year for gold prices since 2000. As gold priced advanced, shares of Newmont Mining (Fortune 500) and other gold miners surged, as well as the , SPDR Gold ETF ( and the )Market Vectors Gold Miners ETF (. )
StockTwits traders predicted that after a dismal 2013, this could be gold's year to shine.
StockTwits user hakihika said gold is one of his "favorite ideas for 2014."
"Hated in 2013, lots claiming it'll go to $1,000," he added. "Outperform in 2014. Off to a good start. $GLD."
U.S. stocks finished higher Tuesday -- the final trading day of 2013 -- with the Dow and S&P closing out 2013 with record highs. The Dow ended the year with a 26% gain, while the S&P 500 jumped more than 29% and the Nasdaq surged nearly 40%.
Markets were closed around the world Wednesday for the New Year's holiday.
European markets closed the first day of the year lower, with France's CAC 40 index and Germany's DAX declining by 1.6%.
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