* S&P 500, Nasdaq, Dow on course for yearly gains
* U.S. crude prices post 20.5% drop in 2020
* Dollar set for worst year since 2017
* Graphic: 2020 asset performance tmsnrt.rs/2yaDPgn
* Graphic: World FX rates in 2020 tmsnrt.rs/2egbfVh (Updates to late afternoon)
NEW YORK, Dec 31 (Reuters) - The S&P 500 reversed course and turned positive on Thursday and the dollar advanced as investors prepared to close the book on a turbulent year of pandemic, recession and recovery.
The Dow joined the S&P in the green but the Nasdaq remained in negative territory, and were on track to exit 2020 like a lamb, much the way they entered it. But in the intervening months, they both roared and plummeted as economic shutdowns to contain the coronavirus brought markets to their knees.
The indexes are on course to end the year on a high note. Equities bounced back with a vengeance following the plunge in March, and the Nasdaq, S&P 500 and Dow are set to show respective annual gains of around 43%, 16% and 7%.
“It’s a quiet day with little news and low volume - an ironic end to such a tumultuous year,” said David Carter, chief investment officer at Lenox Wealth Advisors in New York. “All eyes are on next year, which will be ‘show me’ time, with investors watching to see if actual fundamentals will be as strong as current stock prices are forecasting.”
“It’s been a surprising year because we’ve come so far so fast despite conditions that are currently weak, and the recovery has spread across almost all regions and asset classes,” Carter added. “Investors must be grateful that equity markets are up double digits this year, considering where we were when COVID hit in March.”
Initial jobless claims unexpectedly dropped for the second straight week, according to the Labor Department, but remain elevated, suggesting layoffs remain stubbornly high as the economy stumbles through a COVID-19 resurgence.
President Donald Trump was expected to fly back to Washington on Thursday, cutting his New Year’s Eve festivities short to pick up his fight with Congress over a defense bill and stimulus checks.
Nations around the world struggled to deploy vaccines to end the global health crisis. About 2.8 million Americans have been inoculated so far, falling well short of the year-end goal of 20 million.
Worldwide, deaths from COVID-19 here have surpassed 1.8 million. In the United States, more than 340,000 have died from the disease.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 89.22 points, or 0.29%, to 30,498.78, the S&P 500 gained 10.29 points, or 0.28%, to 3,742.33 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 5.42 points, or 0.04%, to 12,864.58.
European stocks ended the session lower as tighter coronavirus restrictions in the UK and higher U.S. tariffs on some EU products dampened optimism on Britain’s last day as a member of one of the world’s largest trading blocs.
The pan-European STOXX 600 index lost 0.30% and MSCI’s gauge of stocks across the globe shed 0.05%.
Emerging market stocks rose 0.14%. MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan closed 0.01% lower, while Japan’s Nikkei lost 0.45%.
Oil prices advanced on hopes of rebounding demand, but U.S. and Brent crude prices ended 2020 down 20.5%, and 21.5%, respectively.
U.S. crude rose 0.25% to settle at $48.52 per barrel and Brent settled at $51.80 per barrel, up 0.33% on the day.
U.S. Treasury yields dipped on the last trading day of the year, pulling the yield curve flatter, as thin volume exaggerated market moves.
Benchmark 10-year notes last rose 3/32 in price to yield 0.9165%, from 0.926% late on Wednesday.
The 30-year bond last rose 12/32 in price to yield 1.6462%, from 1.662% late on Wednesday.
The dollar rose against a basket of world currencies, but was still on track for its worst year since 2017 as expectations for further fiscal aid and easy monetary policy from the U.S Federal Reserve prompted investors to shun the greenback.
The dollar index rose 0.29%, with the euro down 0.62% to $1.2219.
The Japanese yen weakened 0.06% versus the greenback at 103.26 per dollar, while sterling was last trading at $1.367, up 0.35% on the day.
Gold prices inched lower against the greenback’s advance, but the safe-haven metal was set to notch its best year in a decade due to economic uncertainties caused by the pandemic.
Spot gold added 0.1% to $1,895.25 an ounce.
Reporting by Stephen Culp; Additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes in London, Editing by Chizu Nomiyama