US STOCKS-Wall St to open higher after positive economic data

Last Updated: Fri, Feb 08, 2013 14:20 hrs

* China, German data positive

* U.S. trade deficit shrinks

* LinkedIn surges after earnings, outlook

* Futures up: Dow 6 pts, S&P 1.8 pts, Nasdaq 9.5 pts

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Feb 8 (Reuters) - U.S. stock index were set for a slightly higher open on Friday after a trio of positive economic data points, but gains were expected to be modest, with the benchmark S&P index near five-year highs.

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.

Comments from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi about the strength of the euro Thursday renewed concern about the euro zone economy and sent U.S. equities lower.

Wholesale inventories data for December is due at 10:00 a.m. (1500 GMT); inventories are expected to be up 0.4 percent versus a 0.6 percent increase in November.

The S&P 500 has risen for five straight weeks and is up 5.8 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.

"The market has made a big run, a lot of this was anticipated and so now investors are saying, 'Now what? What do we do for an encore?'" said Terry Morris, senior equity manager for National Penn Investors Trust Company in Reading, Pennsylvania.

"It has made a big run and it is deserving of rest, in fact it would probably be healthy if we had a little bit of a pullback."

S&P 500 futures added 1.8 points and were slightly above fair value, a formula that evaluates pricing by taking into account interest rates, dividends and time to expiration on the contract. Dow Jones industrial average futures gained 6 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures rose 9.5 points.

McDonald's Corp said January sales at established hamburger restaurants around the world fell 1.9 percent, a steeper decline than analysts expected. Shares edged down 0.5 percent to $94.18 in premarket.

LinkedIn Corp jumped 10.6 percent to $137.28 in premarket trading after announcing both blow-out quarterly profits and a bullish forecast for the new year that exceeded Wall Street's already lofty expectations.

According to Thomson Reuters data through Thursday morning, of 317 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings, 69 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 percent, according to the data, above a 1.9 percent forecast at the start of the earnings season.

U.S.-listed shares of Oncolytics Biotech Inc surged 44 percent to $5.14 in premarket trading after the company said a mid-stage trial of its experimental lung cancer drug showed 95 percent of the patients experienced a reduction in the size of their tumors.

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