US STOCKS-Wall Street gains on data, ECB rate cut

Last Updated: Thu, May 02, 2013 18:46 hrs

* ECB cuts rates to support flagging euro zone economy

* U.S. jobless claims fall sharply to five-year low

* Indexes up: Dow 0.5 pct; S&P 0.6 pct; Nasdaq 0.7 pct

By Angela Moon

NEW YORK, May 2 (Reuters) - U.S. stocks rose on Thursday amid signs the job market is still healing despite weakness in the broader economy, and as an interest rate cut by the European Central Bank, to shore up the euro zone economy, boosted investors' appetite for risky assets.

After a slew of weak economic data in the past few weeks, the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits fell sharply last week to its lowest since the early days of the 2007-09 recession.

"It's been a big momentum rally and I'm impressed how much the market has advanced despite weeks of weak data," said Frank Gretz, market analyst and technician for Wellington Shields & Co., a brokerage in New York.

"But it's also a little concerning that the beaten down stocks like materials, energy and metals have been the leaders for the past two weeks or so. That suggests weakness (in the market)."

The S&P energy sector index, up 0.8 percent, was among the top gainers on Thursday.

The ECB lowered its main interest rate by a quarter point to a new record low of 0.50 percent, as inflation fell well below its target level, and amid rising unemployment.

Following the rate decision, trading was volatile as investors digested remarks by ECB President Mario Draghi at a news conference earlier on Thursday.

Among other comments, when asked about negative deposit rates, Draghi said the central bank was technically ready.

The Dow Jones industrial average was up 66.93 points, or 0.46 percent, at 14,767.88. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was up 8.73 points, or 0.55 percent, at 1,591.43. The Nasdaq Composite Index was up 22.09 points, or 0.67 percent, at 3,321.22.

Apple Inc shares were up about 2 percent at $447, the biggest gainer on the Nasdaq.

General Motors rose 4.3 percent to $31.46 after reporting a stronger-than-expected quarterly profit as its North American business improved and its loss in Europe was smaller than Wall Street estimated.

Shares of Facebook Inc rose 3.2 percent to $28.30 after the social network said late Wednesday its mobile advertising revenue growth gained momentum in the first three months.

LinkedIn, which is to report earnings later in the day, was up 1.2 percent at $197.10.

Other data showed the U.S. trade deficit fell more than expected in March as imports recorded their biggest drop since 2009, the latest sign of slowing domestic demand.

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