Wall Street shares end 2014 higher

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(Close): Leading US stocks closed lower on the last day of 2014, but still managed to notch overall gains for the year.

The Dow Jones fell 160 points to 17,823.07, closing below the symbolic 18,000 benchmark it hit in December.

The index finished up 7.5% for 2014, its sixth straight consecutive year of gains.

The broader S&P 500 index shed 21.45 points to 2,058.90 and the tech-heavy Nasdaq lost 41.39 points to 4,736.05.

The S&P 500 ended the year up nearly 12% and the Nasdaq was the biggest winner, gaining over 14% in 2014. It was the third consecutive year of gains for both indices.

The Dow closed at a record high 38 times, while the S&P 500 did so 53 times in 2014 - buoyed by low-interest rates, the strengthening US recovery, and a flurry of corporate activity, particularly in relation to mergers and acquisitions.

Most analysts are optimistic that 2015 will be one in which the US economy continues to be a source of global growth, pushing US shares even higher.

Low volume

Retailer Home Depot was the last day of 2014's biggest winner, with shares in the home-improvement chain rising nearly 1%.

Investors initially were undeterred by a weekly report from the US Labor Department which showed that jobless claims had increased by 17,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 298,000.

Most blamed the days' losses - which came late on Wednesday - on relatively low trading volume,

US markets are closed on Thursday for New Year's Day.

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