Wall Street climbs on China data; S&P nears resistance

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks climbed on Thursday on optimism about global growth spurred by stronger-than-expected exports in China, the world's second-biggest economy, though gains in the S&P 500 were capped at a resistance level near a 5-year high.

Financial and energy stocks were the day's top gainers in afternoon trading. The financial sector index <.gspf> rose 0.8 percent and the energy sector <.gspe> was up 0.6 percent.

The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index hovered near a five-year closing peak of 1,466.47. On Friday, the index had closed at its highest since December 2007.

"The market is technically right at the level of resistance, near 1,465-1,467," said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab.

"A solid breakthrough above the level would be the start of a next leg higher, but it looks like it is going to be difficult to break above that level for now," Frederick said, citing concerns about the corporate earnings season and impending negotiations over the U.S. debt ceiling.

By late morning, the S&P 500 had erased almost all its gains from earlier Thursday in minutes. Some traders said the dip was triggered by a trade in the options market that prompted a large amount of S&P futures to hit the market at the same time, sending the S&P 500 index down rapidly.

Data showed China's export growth rebounded sharply to a seven-month high in December, a strong finish to the year after seven straight quarters of slowdown.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> was up 36.20 points, or 0.27 percent, at 13,426.71. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index <.spx> was up 5.11 points, or 0.35 percent, at 1,466.13. The Nasdaq Composite Index <.ixic> was up 0.05 points, or 0.00 percent, at 3,105.86.

In company news, shares of upscale jeweler Tiffany dropped 4.3 percent to $60.53 after it said earnings for the year through January 31 will be at the lower end of its forecast.

U.S.-traded Nokia shares jumped 18 percent to $4.42 after the Finnish handset maker said its fourth-quarter results were better than expected and that the mobile phone business achieved underlying profitability.

Herbalife Ltd stepped up its defense against activist investor Bill Ackman, stressing it was a legitimate company with a mission to improve nutrition and help public health. The stock was down 2.4 percent at $39.15.

U.S. data showed claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, though seasonal volatility made it difficult to get a clear picture of the labor market's health.

Also, U.S. wholesale inventories rose more than expected in November and sales rose by the most in more than 1-1/2 years. The market's reaction to both reports was muted.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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