* Trading expected to be light in final day of the year
* Energy could be in focus as crude oil continues to weaken
* Investors looking at jobless claims data, pending home sales
* Futures up: Dow 16 pts, S&P 3.75 pts, Nasdaq 6 pts (Updates prices, adds NephroGenex study)
By Ryan Vlastelica
NEW YORK, Dec 31 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index futures edged higher on Wednesday, suggesting Wall Street would end a strong year with minor gains in a seasonal trend of modest moves and low volume.
While some traders are out on holiday and others were waiting until 2015 to make major position changes, energy shares will likely be in focus on what looks to be a quiet day as crude oil prices fell 2.4 percent.
Oil prices have been pressured by weakening demand and a supply glut. Down about 46 percent for the year, oil prices were on track for their biggest decline since 2008, hovering around their lowest since May 2009.
The S&P Energy index is the year’s worst-performing sector by far, off 9.3 percent. The only other sector in negative territory is telecoms, down 0.7 percent. The year’s top performers are utilities, up 26.6 percent, followed by health care, up 24.5 percent.
The gain implied by futures would extend Wall Street’s recent upward bias. The S&P 500 has risen in seven of the past nine sessions, hitting a series of intraday and closing records. While the scale and speed of the rally pushed investors to take profits on Tuesday, the gains have come after the U.S. Federal Reserve’s commitment to be “patient” about raising interest rates and strong economic data - factors that remain in place.
In company news, NephroGenex Inc soared 227.5 percent to $15.35 in heavy premarket trading, a day after it said its lead drug was found to be safe in patients with diabetic nephropathy in a cardiac safety study.
Investors are looking ahead to the latest reading on weekly jobless claims, due at 8:30 a.m. EST (1330 GMT). The claims are coming out a day earlier than usual because of the New Year’s holiday on Thursday, when markets will be closed. Claims are seen rising by 10,000 to 290,000 in the latest week.
After the market opens, reports will be issued on pending home sales for November and the December Chicago Purchasing Managers Index. Home sales are seen up 0.5 percent while the Chicago PMI index is expected to dip modestly.
For December, the Dow is up 0.9 percent, the S&P is up 0.6 percent and the Nasdaq is down 0.3 percent.
For the fourth quarter, the Dow has gained 5.5 percent, the S&P has added 5.5 percent and the Nasdaq has jumped 6.3 percent. Both the S&P and Nasdaq are on track for their eighth straight quarterly gain, the longest for the S&P since 1998 and the longest for the Nasdaq since 1996.
For the year, the Dow is up 8.5 percent in its sixth straight annual gain and the Nasdaq is up 14.4 percent. The S&P is up 12.6 percent. The best-performing component of the benchmark index in 2014 is Southwest Airlines Co with a gain of 123.8 percent while the worst is Transocean Ltd, down 62.2 percent.
Futures snapshot at 8:01:
* S&P 500 e-minis were up 3.75 points, or 0.18 percent, with 25,864 contracts changing hands.
* Nasdaq 100 e-minis added 6 points, or 0.14 percent, on volume of 4,472 contracts.
* Dow e-minis rose 18 points, or 0.1 percent, with 4,555 contracts changing hands. (Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jeffrey Benkoe)