* Jobless claims fall, housing starts accelerate
* EBay gains after results beat expectations
* Bank of America, Citigroup results weigh on financials
* Dow up 0.6 pct, S&P 500 up 0.6 pct, Nasdaq up 0.6 pct
By Caroline Valetkevitch
NEW YORK, Jan 17 Stronger-than-expected data on
U.S. housing starts and jobless claims lit a fire under stocks
on Thursday, pushing the S&P 500 to a five-year high and its
third day of gains.
A pair of economic reports lifted investors' sentiment. The
number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits
fell to a five-year low last week and housing starts jumped last
month to the highest since June 2008.
Strength in the housing and labor markets is key to
sustained growth and higher corporate profits, helping to bring
out buyers even on a day when earnings reports were mixed.
Gains were tempered by weakness in the financial sector,
with Bank of America down 4.2 percent to $11.28 and
Citigroup off 2.9 percent to $41.24 after their results.
In other negative earnings news, shares of chipmaker Intel
fell 5.2 percent to $21.49 in extended-hours trading
after the company forecast quarterly revenue that fell short of
analysts' expectations. Intel had ended the
regular session up 2.6 percent at $22.68.
The S&P 500 ended at its highest since December 2007 and now
sits just 5.6 percent from its all-time closing high of
"Having consolidated really for the last two weeks, the fact
that we broke out, I think that that is sucking in quite a bit
of money," said James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset
Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 84.79 points,
or 0.63 percent, at 13,596.02. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index
was up 8.31 points, or 0.56 percent, at 1,480.94. The
Nasdaq Composite Index was up 18.46 points, or 0.59
percent, at 3,136.00.
Better-than-expected earnings and revenue reported by online
marketplace eBay late Wednesday helped the stock gain
2.7 percent to $54.33.
In the housing sector, PulteGroup Inc shares gained
4.9 percent to $20.29 and Toll Brothers Inc advanced 3.1
percent to $35.99. The PHLX housing sector index climbed
2.4 percent, reaching its highest close since August 2007.
Semiconductor shares rose 2 percent to the highest
close in eight months.
Financials were the only S&P 500 sector to register a slight
decline for the day.
Bank of America's fourth-quarter profit fell as it took more
charges to clean up mortgage-related problems. Citigroup posted
$2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits.
Energy shares led gains on the Dow as U.S. crude oil prices
jumped more than 1 percent. Shares of Exxon Mobil were
up 0.8 percent at $90.20 while shares of Chevron were up
0.7 percent at $114.75.
S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.3 percent in
the fourth quarter, Thomson Reuters data showed. Expectations
for the quarter have fallen considerably since October when a
9.9 percent gain was estimated.
Volume was roughly 6.5 billion shares traded on the New York
Stock Exchange, the Nasdaq and the NYSE MKT, compared with the
2012 average daily closing volume of about 6.45 billion.
Advancers outpaced decliners on the NYSE by about 22 to 7
and on the Nasdaq by about 2 to 1.