Dow edges up as China data cheers

US industrial shares lifted the Dow and the S&P 500 yesterday to new 15-month highs after China bolstered expectations the world economy would strengthen, but the Nasdaq fell on profit-taking in tech stocks.

China reported record imports of some commodities and stronger-than-expected exports, boosting US companies with large international operations, like construction machinery maker Caterpillar and aluminum producer Alcoa.

“There’s definitely a China effect on U.S. stocks today,” said Peter Boockvar, equity strategist at Miller Tabak & Co in New York.

Alcoa closed 2.5 per cent higher at $17.45 before reporting after the market’s close a narrower fourth-quarter net loss of $277m, or 28 cents per share.

Alcoa’s revenue fell to $5.43bn from $5.68bn but was higher than the average analyst estimate of $4.86bn, according to Thomson Reuters.

Alcoa was the first Dow component to announce results, launching the earnings season that will show whether profits and outlooks will be strong enough to sustain stocks' advance.

Caterpillar shares jumped 6.3 percent to $64.13, its largest daily advance since late July.

Large technology shares dragged the Nasdaq lower, with Apple down 0.9 per cent to $210.11, and Microsoft down 1.3 per cent to $30.27.

International Business Machines fell 1.2 per cent to $129.30 and cut gains on the Dow industrials.

“A lot of the high-profile technology names that have had extraordinary runs are taking a breather,” Boockvar said.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 45.80 points, or 0.43 per cent, to 10,663.99. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index rose 2.00 points, or 0.17 per cent, to 1,146.98. The Nasdaq Composite Index fell 4.76 points, or 0.21 percent, to 2,312.41.

The S&P 500 has risen every trading day so far in 2010, the second-longest streak starting a year since 1987’s seven straight days of gains.

Data from China showed the country ended 2009 with record monthly imports of crude oil and soybeans and a strong appetite for iron ore and copper, while its exports rose 17.7 per cent year-over-year, dwarfing a forecast for a 4 percent rise.

United Parcel Service rose 4.4 percent to $62.82 and FedEx was up 2.7 per cent to $87.25. An analyst at Stifel Nicolaus said both rose on expectations the unusually cold weather will drive US consumers to shop online.