Stock markets around the world were seeing out 2011 fairly positively Friday, but many are still posting big declines for the year in the wake of Europe's debt crisis, a faltering U.S. economy and signs that China's economy is no longer sizzling.

Markets have also been rocked by natural disasters, trading scandals, sharp fluctuations in commodity prices, and the up-and-down price of oil amid the political turmoil in the Arab world.

In Europe, the trading backdrop has been particularly grim, with many of the main markets posting their worst year since 2008. That's perhaps unsurprising given that most of the financial world's attention has centred on the debt crisis, which has already seen three relatively small countries bailed out and is threatening Italy, a much-bigger country.

Trading in Europe on Friday was fairly quiet with many traders using the opportunity to close out their books for the year. Many markets were only trading for half the day.

The FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed up 0.1 per cent at 5,572.28, meaning that it ended the year 5.6 per cent lower, while Germany's DAX ended 0.9 per cent higher at 5,898.35, a 14.7 per cent decline over the year.

The CAC-40 in France, which is trading normal hours, was 0.2 per cent higher at 3,134. Despite the rise, it ended the year around 17 per cent lower from where it started at 3,804.78.

Much of the attention next year will centre on Italy, the eurozone's third-largest economy. Italy is the focal point of the eurozone's struggle to deal with a crisis, caused by heavy levels of government debt in a number of the 17 countries that use the single currency.

Fears of default on those debts mean that bond investors demand ever-higher interest. If a country can no longer borrow affordably to pay off bonds that are maturing, it winds up needing a bailout or defaulting.

 Wall Street was expecting a fairly flat opening but U.S. stocks have performed much more solidly than their European and Asian counterparts, largely on the back of a strong year-end performance related to an upbeat run of U.S. economic data.   

The Dow Jones industrial average looks like it's going to end higher for the year, having closed Thursday at 12,287, above the 11,577.51 mark it started the year. It was down about 10 points in mid-morning trading.

 It's still touch and go though whether the broader Standard & Poor's 500 will end up in the black. Thursday's close of 1,263 is only marginally up on the year's starting point of 1,257.64. It was off less than a point.

2011 year to forget for Asian markets

Asian markets have already closed out the year and most markets had a year to forget. Japan's Nikkei 225 index, after three straight days of losses, managed to eke out a 0.4 per cent rise Friday to end the year at 8,429.45. However, that was its lowest closing since 1982.

Meanwhile, China's benchmark Shanghai composite gained 1.2 per cent to close at 2,199.42, a21 per cent loss for the year as the impact of Beijing's multibillion-dollar stimulus faded and the government tightened curbs on lending and investment to cool blistering economic growth.

Elsewhere in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index gained 0.2 per cent to close at 18,434.39, a slide of 19.7 per cent from a year ago. Singapore's Straits Times Index closed down one per cent at 2,646.35, a 17.5 per cent dive.

Oil prices were poised to close out the year around the $100 US a barrel mark. Benchmark crude for February delivery was down 57 cents at $99.08 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange.