US STOCKS-Wall St edges higher as financials gain

* S&P 500 rises to level just before Lehman bankruptcy

* Walgreen jumps on earnings report

* Financial stocks lead gains

* Indexes: Dow up 0.08 pct, S&P up 0.2 pct, Nasdaq up 0.06

* For up-to-the-minute market news see [STXNEWS/US]
(Updates to late morning, changes byline)

By Chuck Mikolajczak

NEW YORK, Dec 22 (BestGrowthStock) – U.S. stocks (Read more about the stock market today. ) edged higher on
Wednesday as gains in financial stocks helped put the S&P 500
on pace for a fifth-straight winning session and lifted the
benchmark index to levels not seen since before Lehman Brothers
went bankrupt.

The recent rise in financial stocks has propped up the
rally lately after the sector lagged through autumn. Bank of
America Corp (BAC.N: ) rose 2.4 percent to $13.29, and JPMorgan
Chase & Co (JPM.N: ) climbed 3 percent to $42.22.

“It is some year-end rotation, portfolio repositioning at
year-end — they have been lagging the last four months,” said
Fred Dickson, chief market strategist at D.A. Davidson & Co in
Lake Oswego, Oregon.

The KBW regional bank index (.KRX: ) rose 3.2 percent and is
now up nearly 19 percent for the month. Index component Whitney
Holding Corp (WTNY.O: ) surged 30.4 percent to $14.18 after it
agreed to be acquired by Hancock Holding Co (HBHC.O: ) in a stock
deal worth about $1.5 billion. [ID:nSGE6BL0AM]

Hancock shares slipped 5.4 percent to $35.05.

“Investors seem to be reacting to the fact that, at least
at the regional level, banks have been able to improve their
balance sheets,” Dickson said.

The Dow Jones industrial average (.DJI: ) gained 9.27 points,
or 0.08 percent, to 11,542.43. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index
(.SPX: ) gained 2.52 points, or 0.20 percent, to 1,257.12. The
Nasdaq Composite Index (.IXIC: ) gained 1.63 points, or 0.06
percent, to 2,669.24.

The S&P 500 climbed above 1,255.08, a level last seen in
September 2008, before Lehman collapsed and an important
psychological barrier for investors.

Energy shares rose as crude oil futures (CLc1: ) topped $90 a
barrel. Chevron Corp (CVX.N: ) added 0.7 percent to $89.82, while
Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N: ) climbed 0.1 percent to $72.79.

High levels of bullishness and the S&P 500 relative
strength index (RSI) are among indicators pointing to an
overbought condition, but that may only be worked off after
traders return in January from the holidays.

Nike Inc (NKE.N: ) on Tuesday posted an 11 percent rise in
future orders, a key measure of sales growth, but that missed
Wall Street’s estimates and sent shares of the world’s largest
athletic shoe and clothing maker down 5.5 percent to $87.19.

Walgreen Co (WAG.N: ) posted higher profit on increased
prescription sales and a slower pace of store openings that
helped control costs, sending its shares up 6.7 percent to
$39.30.

U.S. economic growth was a touch stronger than previously
estimated in the third quarter, but consumer spending was
softer. [ID:nN22291718]

Data from the National Association of Realtors showed sales
of previously owned homes rose less than expected in November,
suggesting the U.S. housing sector is struggling to gain
traction as high unemployment and tight lending standards
continue to hamper recovery. [ID:nN2238547]
(Editing by Padraic Cassidy)

US STOCKS-Wall St edges higher as financials gain