China data lifts Wall Street on hopes for world growth

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Stocks rose on Thursday as stronger-than-expected exports in China, the world's second-biggest economy, raised hopes for a more robust recovery in the global economy.

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, even as demand from Europe and the United States remained subdued.

Ford Motor shares climbed 3.2 percent to $13.90 after it doubled its first-quarter dividend to 10 cents a share, despite a recent drop in market share.

Adding to bullish sentiment, Spanish benchmark government bond yields fell below 5 percent to a 10-month low on the back of a strong bond auction that raised more than the targeted amount.

"The market's more positive and it owes a lot of that to the Chinese economic data," said Art Hogan, managing director of Lazard Capital Markets in New York. He said the success of the Spanish auction was also of note.

The Dow Jones industrial average <.dji> rose 47.75 points or 0.36 percent, to 13,438.26, the S&P 500 <.spx> gained 6.73 points or 0.46 percent, to 1,467.75 and the Nasdaq Composite <.ixic> added 14.04 points or 0.45 percent, to 3,119.85.

Data showed new U.S. 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.

Several Federal Reserve speakers are due to speak Thursday, including Kansas City Fed President Esther George and St. Louis Fed President James Bullard. Market participants are likely to pay close attention to their remarks following indications, in the minutes of the latest Fed meeting, that the Fed may halt its highly stimulative asset purchases this year. The program has been one of the pillars of the strength in the equity market.

Shares of upscale jeweler Tiffany dropped 4.9 percent to $60.14 after it said earnings for the year through January 31 will be at the lower end of its forecast.

Molycorp shares dropped 22.3 percent to $8.38 after it said revenue and cash flow would be lower than expected this year due to lower rare-earth prices.

U.S.-traded Nokia shares jumped 16.5 percent to $4.37 after the Finnish handset maker said its fourth-quarter results were better than expected and that the mobile phone business achieved underlying profitability.

(Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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