* TSX rises 96.02 points to 11,637.04
* Hits highest level since Dec. 4
* Bulk of gains come at start of session (Adds details, comments)
By Frank Pingue
TORONTO, Dec 16 (Reuters) - Toronto's main stock index hit its loftiest level in nearly two weeks on Wednesday, en route to a higher close, as a rise in crude prices helped push up shares of Suncor Energy (SU.TO) and other oil companies.
Suncor, the biggest contributor to the index's gain, rose 1.7 percent to C$37.90, followed by fellow oil producer Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO), which gained 2.4 percent to C$71.89.
Energy shares rallied alongside a surge in oil prices to near $73 a barrel after data showed crude stocks in the United States fell more than expected last week. [O/R]
The bulk of the TSX's gains came in the first half of the session, before it slipped into a relatively tight range for the remainder of the day, as has recently been the case.
The S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE ended up 96.02 points, or 0.83 percent, at 11,637.04. Earlier it rose to 11,691.73, which marked its highest level since Dec. 4.
"The market is at a point now where it is not overvalued, it's not undervalued, it's probably fairly valued here," said Peter Chandler, senior vice-president at Canaccord Wealth Management in Waterloo, Ontario.
"It's going to need some kind of a precipitator to have it move dramatically one way or the other right now."
Other key drivers behind Wednesday's gain included gold miners, which climbed alongside gold prices. Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO) rose 1.9 percent to C$42.29, while Eldorado Gold (ELD.TO) ended up 4.2 percent at C$14.61.
The TSX is now up 55.6 percent since it fell to a five-year low in March. With many investors getting set to take off for Christmas and New Year holidays, it appears that number will not change much in the remaining days of 2009.
"I don't look for a whole lot of clear direction in the last ... trading days of the year," said Chandler. "It's going to go up one day, down the next day and I don't see a big breakout or breakdown at this point in time."
($1=$1.06 Canadian) (Editing by Rob Wilson)