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Wall Street climbs; S&P closes at five-year high 

Stocks closed the trading day higher, pushing the Standard & Poor's 500 index to another five-year high, after strong reports on housing starts and unemployment claims made investors more optimistic about the U.S. economy. 

The S&P 500 gained eight points to close at 1,480 Thursday, its highest level since December 2007. 

The Dow Jones industrial average also rose, gaining 84 points to 13,596. The Nasdaq composite rose 18 points to 3,136. 

The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits fell to a five-year low last week and housing starts jumped last month to the highest since June 2008. 

Strength in the housing and labor markets is key to sustained growth and higher corporate profits. Job market improvement helps stimulate consumer spending while a recovery in housing means more purchases of appliances, furniture and other household goods as well as a source of employment. 

"Having consolidated really for the last two weeks, the fact that we broke out, I think that that's sucking in quite a bit of money," said James Dailey, portfolio manager of TEAM Asset Strategy Fund in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. 

In the housing sector, PulteGroup Inc shares gained 4.9 percent to $20.29 and Toll Brothers Inc advanced 3.1 percent to $35.99. 

EBay's shares rose 2.7 percent to $54.33 a day after it reported holiday quarter results that just beat Wall Street expectations. It gave a 2013 forecast that was within analysts' estimates. 

Gains were tempered somewhat by weakness in the financial sector, with Bank of America down 4.3 percent to $11.27 and Citigroup off 3 percent to $41.22 after they posted their results. 

Bank of America's fourth-quarter profit fell as it took more charges to clean up mortgage-related problems. Citigroup posted $2.32 billion of charges for layoffs and lawsuits. 

The S&P financial sector index slipped 0.14 percent as the only one of the 10 major S&P sectors to decline. 

S&P 500 earnings are expected to have risen 2.3 percent in the fourth quarter, Thomson Reuters data showed. Expectations for the quarter have fallen considerably since October when a 9.9 percent gain was estimated. 

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.