NEW YORK — Despite falling nearly 50 points Thursday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average logged its best start to a year in almost two decades.
Stocks rallied in the first week of the year after U.S. lawmakers reached a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff," and then pushed higher toward record levels as optimism about the housing market recovery grew. Decent company earnings for the fourth quarter and an improving job market also helped lift markets.
The Dow ended the month up 5.8 percent, its strongest January since 1994, according to S&P Capital IQ data. The Dow is just 304 points from its all-time high. The Standard & Poor's 500 index finished the month 5 percent higher, its best start to the year since 1997.
"There's not a whole lot of bears left here," said Jeff Hirsch, the editor of the Stock Trader's Almanac.
On Thursday, the Dow fell 49.84 points to 13,860.58. The S&P 500 dropped 3.85 points to 1,498.11, and the Nasdaq composite edged down 0.18 points to 3,142.13.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury note, which moves inversely to its price, was little changed at 1.99 percent.
About $51 billion in net deposits was moved into stock funds and so-called hybrid funds, which invest in a mix of stocks and bonds, consultant Strategic Insight said. That's the most since $56 billion flowed in during January 2004.
Stocks have gained against a backdrop of low borrowing costs and a slow, steady economic recovery. However, the market may struggle to build on those gains in the immediate future as traders and investors turn their attention back to Washington's budget debates, said Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust.