US STOCKS-Wall Street gains on data, but Syria caution lingers

US STOCKS-Wall Street gains on data, but Syria caution lingers

Last Updated: Thu, Aug 29, 2013 14:30 hrs

* Oil prices dip, but near recent multi-month highs

* Guess shares rally after strong sales

* Vodafone in talks with Verizon to sell out of U.S. venture

* Fast-food workers plan strikes over wages

* Indexes up: Dow 0.2 pct, S&P 0.3 pct, Nasdaq 0.6 pct

By Rodrigo Campos

NEW YORK, Aug 29 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Thursday on strong economic data and a possible large deal between Vodafone and Verizon, as a possible Western military strike on Syria appeared to be delayed for now.

Data showed the U.S. economy grew more quickly than expected in the second quarter thanks to a surge in exports. The report, alongside data suggesting a strengthening in job numbers in August, could bolster the case for the Federal Reserve to soon wind down a major economic stimulus program that has been a pillar of the rally in equities this year.

The numbers show the economic recovery may have started in the first half of the year and the economy is strong enough to allow for the Fed to scale back its stimulus, said Phil Orlando, chief equity market strategist at Federated Investors in New York.

U.S.-traded shares of Vodafone Group jumped 8.4 percent to $31.89 after the company said it was in talks with Verizon Communications to sell its 45 percent stake in their U.S. joint venture, Verizon Wireless. Verizon shares rose 3.4 percent to $48.15.

Merger and acquisition activity "tells us companies have a lot of firepower, the ability to use cash, a lot of debt they could utilize and currency for stock deals, all that is positive" for the market, Orlando said.

Retaliation over the Syrian government's alleged chemical weapons attack on civilians could be delayed, not only by the U.N. weapons inspectors' continued presence in Syria, but by the Obama administration's efforts to coordinate with international partners and growing demands for consultation with U.S. lawmakers.

"There's a lot of uncertainty as Western powers have taken a step back, so the market is encouraged of some stepping back from the brink," said Peter Jankovskis, co-chief investment officer at OakBrook Investments in Lisle, Illinois.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 28.74 points, or 0.19 percent, to 14,853.25, the S&P 500 gained 4.43 points, or 0.27 percent, to 1,639.39 and the Nasdaq Composite added 22.033 points, or 0.61 percent, to 3,615.382.

Brent crude fell 0.5 percent as traders reassessed supply risks emerging in the Middle East, but prices remained near their highest since February.

US Airways Group Inc, American Airlines and the U.S. Justice Department said on Wednesday they were open to settling a court fight over whether the two companies should be allowed to merge. US Airways shares rose 3.1 percent to $15.81.

Guess Inc shares jumped 11.3 percent to $30.39 a day after its second-quarter results beat Wall Street estimates, bucking a trend of falling sales for apparel retailers.

Fast-food workers from McDonald's, Wendy's Restaurants, Burger King Worldwide and others across the United States are expected to stage their largest strike to date on Thursday in an almost year-long campaign to raise wages in the service sector.

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