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Encouraging reports from China and Europe lifted global investor sentiment, helping benchmarks finish in the green on Thursday. Investor optimism about global growth has propelled the S&P 500 to a new five year high. Meanwhile, the number of Americans filing for the unemployment benefits increased during the previous week. Despite a positive global outlook housing stocks declined yesterday. The financial sector emerged as the biggest gainer among the S&P 500 industry groups.     

The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJI) gained 0.6% to close the day at 13,471.22. The Standard & Poor 500 (S&P 500) added 0.8% to finish yesterday’s trading session at 1,472.12. The tech-laden Nasdaq Composite Index surged 0.5% to end at 3,121.76.The fear-gauge CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) lost 2.3% to settle at 13.49. Consolidated volumes on the New York Stock Exchange, American Stock Exchange and Nasdaq were roughly 6.77 billion shares, higher than the 2012 daily average of 6.42 billion shares. Advancing stocks easily outpaced decliners on the NYSE; as for 65% stocks that rose, only 31% moved lower.

Benchmarks finished in the green for the second consecutive day. After an encouraging start to the fourth-quarter earnings season on Wednesday, benchmarks received another boost following optimism about global growth pushed. Encouraging international reports helped the S&P 500 touch its second highest level since December 2007. The index is only 93 points below the all time high achieved in October 2007.     

A report from China, the world’s second largest economy revealed exports grew at the quickest rate in seven months following seven consecutive disappointing quarters. China exports expanded 14.1% on a year on year basis in December, whereas exports increased 6%. Despite positive trade data from China for the last month of the year, the country has missed its initial targets of 10% growth, both in exports and imports by a big margin. According to Zheng Yusheng, a spokesperson for the customs office: “China trade still faces uncertainties in 2013.” “But we expect the trade situation will be relatively better compared to 2012,” he added.

European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said the Euro Zone will continue to struggle in 2013 but conditions will improve slowly in the later part of the year. He also said:”Several ... indicators have broadly stabilized, albeit at low levels and financial market confidence has improved significantly.”

Meanwhile, initial claims surged for the second consecutive week. According to the U.S. Department of Labor the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial claims increased 4,000 to 371,000 for the week ending January 5 from prior week’s revised figure of 367,000. This was below consensus estimates of 365,000. Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau revealed that wholesale inventories increased 0.6% in November to $498.9 billion.

The fourth-quarter earnings season has started on a positive note following encouraging quarterly results and a positive outlook from Alcoa Inc (NYSE:AA). The company predicted stronger demand for aluminum in 2013. According to market experts, investors will closely examine the sales outlook of companies this quarter. Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC) is scheduled to report its quarterly results on Friday.

Housing stocks took a hit and the SPDR S&P Homebuilders (XHB) lost 0.1%. Stocks such as PulteGroup, Inc. (NYSE:PHM), M.D.C. Holdings, Inc. (NYSE:MDC), D.R. Horton, Inc. (NYSE:DHI), The Ryland Group, Inc. (NYSE:RYL) and KB Home (NYSE:KBH) slipped 0.4%, 1.0%, 1.4%, 1.4% and 0.2%, respectively.

Financials were the biggest gainer among the S&P 500 industry groups and the Financial Select Sector SPDR (XLF) gained 1.2%. Stocks such as JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE:JPM), Wells Fargo & Company (NYSE:WFC), Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. (NYSE:GS), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE:C) and PNC Financial Services (NYSE:PNC) jumped 1.5%, 2.0%, 2.3%, 1.9% and 1.6%, respectively.

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