US STOCKS-Wall Street advances after stream of economic data

Fri Feb 8, 2013 10:25am EST

* China, German data positive

* U.S. trade deficit shrinks

* LinkedIn surges after earnings, outlook

* Indexes up: Dow 0.5 pct, S&P 0.5 pct, Nasdaq 0.9 pct

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index rose on Friday after a batch of positive economic data points, but gains were checked with the benchmark S&P index at five-year highs as investors looked for strong catalysts to push the market further upward.

Data showed Chinese exports grew more than expected in January, while imports climbed 28.8 percent, highlighting robust domestic demand, while German data showed a 2012 surplus that was the nation's second highest in more than 60 years, an indication of the underlying strength of Europe's biggest economy.

Another positive sign was U.S. economic data which showed the trade deficit shrank in December to $38.5 billion, its narrowest in nearly three years, indicating the economy did much better in the fourth quarter than initially estimated.

But wholesale inventories unexpectedly fell 0.1 percent in December as auto dealers and agricultural suppliers drew down their stocks.

The S&P 500 has risen for five straight weeks and is up 6.3 percent for the year. Its advance was helped by legislators in Washington averting a series of automatic spending cuts and tax hikes earlier in the year, as well as better-than-expected corporate earnings and data that pointed to modest economic improvement but no immediate change in the Federal Reserve's stimulus plans.

The index, hovering near five-year highs, has found it tougher to climb in recent days as investors await strong trading incentives to drive it further upward.

"We are going to have this churn and this consolidation, which actually isn't a bad thing - it's actually good the market isn't being so volatile and is actually consolidating because it is building a base," said Ken Polcari, Director of the NYSE floor division at O'Neil Securities in New York.

"If it builds a base, from there it is easier to make the argument that you move ahead."

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 67.62 points, or 0.48 percent, to 14,011.67. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index climbed 7.82 points, or 0.52 percent, to 1,517.21. The Nasdaq Composite Index rose 27.34 points, or 0.86 percent, to 3,192.47.

McDonald's Corp said January sales at established hamburger restaurants around the world fell 1.9 percent, a steeper decline than analysts expected. Still, shares edged up 0.5 percent to $94.11.

Healthcare stocks were among the best performers, with the Morgan Stanley healthcare payor index up 2.3 percent. Molina Healthcare Inc surged 12.1 percent to $32.36 as the biggest boost to the index after posting fourth-quarter earnings.

LinkedIn Corp jumped 19.3 percent to $148.02 after announcing blow-out quarterly profits and a bullish forecast for the year that exceeded Wall Street's already lofty expectations.

According to Thomson Reuters data through Friday morning, of 339 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69.9 percent have exceeded analysts' expectations, above a 62 percent average since 1994 and 65 percent over the past four quarters.

Fourth-quarter earnings for S&P 500 companies grew 5.2 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.