* TSX up 144.01 points, or 1.05 pct, at 13,910.77
* Eight of the TSX's 10 main groups advance
* Chinese data lifts outlook for commodity demand
* Unrest in the Middle East remains a concern (Updates with details, comment)
By Solarina Ho
TORONTO, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Toronto's main stock index rallied to a 31-month high on Monday, led by energy and mining issues, after Chinese trade data underscored the Asian country's strong appetite for raw materials.
Optimism over China's economic outlook grew as concerns eased about the country's inflation overheating and as data showed imports surged. [ID:nTOE71A01I] [MET/L]
That boosted the TSX's energy and materials groups, which make up roughly 50 percent of the index. Energy shares rose 1.86 percent, while materials gained 1.57 percent.
"(People) keep on seeing that (the market's) running away from them and they're being forced into the market," said Sid Mokhtari, market technician and director of institutional equity research at CIBC World Markets.
"Energy is very thematic in 2011 -- it was one sector that returned very little in 2010," he added.
Energy stocks have climbed nearly 5 percent so far this year. Suncor Energy (SU.TO) gained 3.38 percent to reach C$41.61, while Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) rose 2.72 percent to C$44.38. Imperial Oil (IMO.TO) was up 2.16 percent at C$45.85.
Brent crude jumped more than 2 percent to top $104 a barrel over concerns about protests in the Middle East and healthy crude oil imports by China. High stockpiles weighed on U.S. crude prices, however. [O/R]
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE finished the day advancing 144.01 points, or 1.05 percent, to 13,910.77. Earlier in the session, the index hit its highest level since July 2008.
Eight of the TSX's 10 main groups were higher. Technology issues and telecoms were the lone decliners, retreating 0.54 percent and 0.04 percent respectively.
"It's reasonable to say that with the Chinese data point and with Japanese GDP being less of a concern for people, that gave the market a boost overseas. Which basically cascaded into North America," said Mokhtari, who also said he expects the TSX to push through the 14,000 level.
The influential and economically sensitive financial group was also up, climbing 0.83 percent. Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO) gained 1.04 percent to C$79.32, while Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO) advanced 0.97 percent to C$60.33.
"Rates are still very low, the economy is very surreptitiously improving. We like what we see -- this is a stock picker's market -- so it's individual stocks that are moving ... China and everything else is just a bit of a diversion," said Irwin Michael, a portfolio manager at ABC Funds.
"The banks are fairly to fully priced. But, having said that, if you have to put out money, clients will never really criticize you for buying a Canadian bank. They pay good dividends, they're liquid."
Among miners, Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) climbed 2.54 percent to C$48.01. Cameco Corp (CCO.TO), which posted higher than expected fourth-quarter earnings late on Friday, finished with a 3.83 percent jump to C$43.14.[ID:nN14292027]
Bullion rose on safe-haven demand as fears returned that political unrest could escalate in the Middle East after Hosni Mubarak's resignation. [GOL/]
"People are still nervous, people want to see what the actual fallout is on Egypt," said Michael.
($1=$0.99 Canadian) (Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson; and Rob Wilson)