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At midday: Stocks hold gains following ECB optimism, China trade Add to ...

Stocks were up modestly in midday trading on Thursday, following an uptick in U.S. jobless claims but an encouraging outlook from the European Central Bank and stronger-than-expected Chinese trade data.

Shortly after noon, the S&P 500 was up 4 points or 0.3 per cent, to 1465. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was up 24 points or 0.2 per cent, to 13,414. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 54 points or 0.4 per cent, to 12,576.

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The moves follow a disappointing report on U.S. initial jobless claims. After showing some improvement following the effects of Hurricane Sandy, claims for the period ended last week rose to 371,000 – 4,000 above the previous week and above economists’ expectations.

However, ECB president Mario Draghi said that the euro area economy will slowly return to health in 2013 as it benefits from a “positive contagion” of good news – highlighted by retreating borrowing costs by countries such as Spain. The central bank held is key interest rate unchanged, at 0.75 per cent.

European stocks failed to react. Germany’s DAX index fell 0.2 per cent while the U.K.’s FTSE 100 rose less than 0.1 per cent.

In China, exports grew 14.1 per cent in December and imports rose 6 per cent, marking an upbeat shift from November.

Within the S&P 500, financials rose 0.7 per cent after Warren Buffett said that the U.S. banking system was in the best shape in recent memory. Telecom stocks rose 0.5 per cent, health-care stocks rose 0.3 per cent and technology stocks fell 0.2 per cent.

Nokia jumped 18 per cent in New York trading after it reported a recovery in fourth quarter-earnings, with its mobile phones division showing its first profit in a year.

Ford Motor Co. rose 2.4 per cent after it doubled its quarterly dividend to 10 cents (U.S.) a share.

In Canada, materials rose 1.3 per cent after gold rebounded to $1,676 an ounce, up more than $20. Industrials rose 0.5 per cent, energy stocks rose 0.3 per cent and financials were relatively unchanged.

Jean Coutu Group (PJC) Inc. rose 1.8 per cent after it reported quarterly earnings of $56.2-million (Canadian) or 26 cents a share, up 10 per cent from last year, and beating expectations by a penny.

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