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2012 market recap: Bulls continue charge

(MoneyWatch) Despite painfully slow economic growth and dysfunctional partisan politics, US stocks closed up 16.12 percent this year measured by the Wilshire 5000 Total Return, the broadest measure of the US stock market. The Vanguard Total Stock Market ETF (VTI), which follows a similar index rose 16.45 percent for the year. This is the highest ever year end close as stocks bested the 2007 year-end close by 11.61 percent and the pre-crash high on October 9, 2007 by 4.37 percent. The S&P 500 index, which excludes dividends and smaller companies but still reported by some of the media, gained 13.41 percent.

International stocks fared even better than US stocks with the Vanguard Total International Stock ETF (VXUS) rose by 18.62 percent. International stocks were led by Europe which was often billed as the part of the world to avoid, as the Euro crisis continued. The Vanguard European Stock ETF (VGK) increased by 21.55 percent. The Vanguard Emerging Market ETF (VWO) rose by 19.22 percent while the Vanguard Pacific ETF (VPL) was the laggard for the rest of the world rising by 15.86 percent.

Bonds also preformed relatively well as the Barclays Aggregate Bond Index rising by 4.27 percent.

According to Morningstar, US stocks were lead by communications companies surging 30.49 percent, financial services rising 27.28 percent, and consumer cyclical gaining 22.03 percent. At the other end, utilities lagged gaining only 0.78 percent and energy gained only 2.14 percent. All of these numbers are as of December 28 and don't include the final day's trading. These are total returns including dividends.

Also according to Morningstar, through December 28, there was little differentiation in US stocks by size as mid cap stocks slightly bested large and small cap stocks. Value stocks, however, lagged the rest of the US stock market turning in a gain of 12.32 percent versus a 15.02 percent return for growth and a 15.95 percent return for core stocks. Value companies are those trading at low multiples and generally paying high dividends while growth generally trade at high multiples and pay lower or no dividends. Core are those companies in between.

Since the bottom of the stock market on March 9, 2009, U.S. stocks have roared back with a 135.1 percent gain. Break out the champagne! 

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