* China exports rise to 7-month highs, lifts optimism
* S&P index posts highest close in five years
* Euro jumps after ECB holds rates, strong Spanish debt sale
* ECB’s Draghi, Fed’s Bullard offer encouraging growth views
* Oil rises on China demand, Saudi output cuts
By Richard Leong
NEW YORK, Jan 10 (Reuters) - World stock prices rose to an eight-month high on Thursday and oil prices climbed as unexpectedly strong data on Chinese exports raised hopes of a faster recovery for the global economy.
An encouraging view on the U.S. economy from a top Federal Reserve official helped catapult the Standard & Poor’s 500 index to its highest closing level in five years.
The euro rose on less anxiety about the euro zone economy after the European Central Bank unanimously left interest rates unchanged and ECB President Mario Draghi offered no hints that more policy easing will be coming soon.
While the euro zone has been treading water due to a festering debt crisis and a sluggish global economy, Draghi said at a news conference after the ECB rate meeting that “later in 2013, economic activity should gradually recover.”
The ECB’s policy restraint spurred selling in safe-haven German government debt and stoked bids for gold.
“The global market is expected to be in better shape in 2013 than back in the summer of 2012,” said Stephen Wood, chief market strategist at Russell Investments in New York. “There are a few more positives than negatives the market is pricing in.”
The U.S. economy, while far from robust, seemed to be gaining traction, especially in the housing sector. St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said he expected U.S. gross domestic product growth at 3.2 percent in 2013, more than 1 percentage point faster than the median forecast among economists polled by Reuters.
Another factor supporting the market was Spain’s first debt sale of 2013, which raised more money than expected at a lower borrowing cost than in a previous auction. That sent benchmark Spanish bond yields to 10-month lows.
The combination of an improved global economic outlook and reduced worries about Spain’s ability to finance its deficit supported bids for world shares for a second day. But lingering worries about poor corporate earnings and the debt ceiling fight in Washington left traders reticent to push stock prices much higher, analysts said.
MSCI’s broad world equity index was 0.8 percent higher at 349.74, slightly below the highest level since May it touched earlier.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 80.71 points, or 0.60 percent, at 13,471.22. The S&P 500 finished 11.10 points, or 0.76 percent, higher at 1,472.12. The Nasdaq Composite Index ended up 15.95 points, or 0.51 percent, at 3,121.76.
U.S.-traded shares of Nokia jumped 18.7 percent to $4.45 after the Finnish mobile phone maker said its fourth-quarter results were better than expected.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 index flirted with a near two-year high before turning lower in late European trading on comments from Swatch CEO Nick Hayek, who said he expected slower growth in Swiss watch exports in 2013. The index closed down 0.29 percent at 1,164.65 after touching 1,170.29.
China surprised most observers by reporting its exports rebounded sharply in December to a seven-month high, with imports growing at double the expected rate. However, the data showed demand for Chinese goods in the United States and Europe remained subdued.
A broad measure of Chinese credit growth also rose strongly, making it likely that the economy expanded by around 7.8 percent in 2012. Fourth-quarter GDP data come out next week.
China’s GDP growth touched a 3-1/2-year low of 7.4 percent between July and September last year.
The strength of imports revealed in the data stoked hopes of greater demand for commodities, lifting copper and oil prices.
“Risk is back on after the China data,” said Carsten Fritsch, senior oil analyst at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. “General market sentiment is much more positive, with hopes of better growth pushing up most markets.”
News of a big 700,000 barrels-per-day cut in oil production over the last two months of last year by Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, added to gains in oil prices.
Brent crude prices climbed to a 12-week high of $113.29 a barrel before settling up 13 cents, or 0.12 percent, at $111.89.
U.S. crude futures settled 72 cents, or 0.77 percent, higher at $93.82 a barrel, while London copper was 0.56 percent higher at $8,125 a tonne.
In the currency market, the euro gained an extra boost after Spain’s debt auction raised 5.8 billion euros.
Most of the demand was for a bond maturing in 2015 that would be covered by an ECB bond-buying program if Spain were to apply for international aid, though the success of the auction probably delayed the timing of any request.
The euro rose 1.5 percent at $1.3254, while yields on 10-year Spanish bonds fell to a 10-month low of 4.90 percent .
The single currency strengthened to an 18-month high against the yen at 117.58 yen.
The yield on German 10-year government debt edged up slightly on the day at 1.572 percent, hovering at its highest level since late October. Benchmark 10-year Treasury notes were last down 11/32 in price to yield 1.899 percent, up from 1.86 percent late on Wednesday.