U.S. stocks inched higher on Thursday, helped by stronger-than-expected exports in China, the world's second-biggest economy, but gains were capped as the S&P 500 hovered near a 5-year high.
Financial and telecommunications stocks were the day's top gainers, while the material sector was the biggest drag. The S&P 500 material sector index .GSPM was off 0.3 percent. The financial sector index .GSPF rose 0.6 percent and the telecom sector .GSPL was up 0.5 percent.
The benchmark Standard & Poor's 500 index was near a five-year closing high of 1,466.47. On Friday, the index had ended at the highest close since December 2007.
"The market is technically right at the level of resistance, near 1,465-1,467. A solid breakthrough above the level would be the start of a next leg higher, but it looks like it is going to be difficult to break above that level for now," said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. He cited concerns about the earnings season and upcoming debt ceiling talks.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was up 9.84 points, or 0.07 percent, at 13,400.35. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index .SPX was up 2.55 points, or 0.17 percent, at 1,463.57. The Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC was down 2.01 points, or 0.06 percent, at 3,103.80.
In company news, shares of upscale jeweler Tiffany (TIF.N) dropped 3.6 percent to $60.98 after it said earnings for the year through January 31 will be at the lower end of its forecast.
U.S.-traded Nokia shares (NOK.N) jumped 17.3 percent to $4.40 after the Finnish handset maker said its fourth-quarter results were better than expected and that the mobile phone business achieved underlying profitability.
Herbalife Ltd (HLF.N) stepped up its defense against activist investor Bill Ackman, stressing it was a legitimate company with a mission to improve nutrition and help public health. The stock was up 1.4 percent to $40.47.
Data showed China's export growth rebounded sharply to a seven-month high in December, a strong finish to the year after seven straight quarters of slowdown, even as demand from Europe and the United States remained subdued.
In the U.S., claims for unemployment benefits rose last week, though seasonal volatility made it difficult to get a clear picture of the labor market's health.
Also, U.S. wholesale inventories rose more than expected in November and sales rose by the most in more than 1-1/2 years. The market's reaction to both reports was muted.