US stocks extend advance in year's final session

Wall Street saw a merciful end to a dreadful year Wednesday as stocks closed the last session of 2008 with a sizable advance. According to preliminary calculations, the Dow Jones industrials rose 108 points to 8,776.39 - but plunged nearly 34 percent over the course of the year as the US mortgage and credit crisis turned into a global recession. The past year marked the worst for the Dow since 1931. Investors took some comfort Wednesday from the Labor Department's report of a sharp drop in weekly unemployment claims. But many traders were out of the market, on vacation or having closed their books for the year. Analysts said many investors were looking forward to the start of 2009. Still, there are many unknowns about the economy that could make Wall Street's recovery from a terrible 2008 a difficult one.