* TSX rises 108.24 points, or 0.85 pct, to 12,901.99
* Financials, energy issues lead gains
* Maple Leaf sags after Teachers' sells stake (Adds details, quote, official close)
By Cameron French
TORONTO, Nov 24 (Reuters) - Toronto's main stock index rose strongly on Wednesday as robust energy prices and strong U.S. economic data overshadowed worries that Ireland's debt crisis could spread to other European economies.
New U.S. claims for jobless benefits dropped last week to their lowest level in more than two years, while consumer spending rose in October. [ID:nN24211131]
"The biggest news today is the jobless claims number, which dipped to the lowest level since the recession officially began," said Barry Schwartz, vice president and portfolio manager at Baskin Financial Services.
This helped drive financial stocks up 1.1 percent, led by market heavyweight Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO), which gained 1.8 percent to C$54.96, and National Bank of Canada (NA.TO), which climbed 2.1 percent to C$67.12.
"Even as Irish bonds are plunging, the concerns about the whole Europe situation seem to have dissipated a little bit, and there haven't been any remarkable developments overnight in terms of Korea," said Elvis Picardo, strategist at Global Securities, in Vancouver.
Tensions in the Korean peninsula and euro zone debt concerns helped yank the Toronto index down more than 1 percent on Tuesday, but the United States said on Wednesday it believes North Korea's shelling of a South Korean island this week was an isolated act. [ID:nL3I6MO04H]
This helped the market see Tuesday's drop as a buying opportunity, Picardo said. He added, however, that he expects the index to struggle to make meaningful gains in the near term. Canadian stocks have risen nearly 12 percent since late August.
Toronto trading activity could be thin on Thursday as U.S. markets, which typically have a considerable influence on the TSX, will be closed for Thanksgiving.
Also giving the commodity-heavy Toronto market a boost was a 1.3 percent rise in energy issues as U.S. crude futures rose about 3.6 percent.
Precision Drilling (PD.TO) climbed 3.5 percent to C$8.57, while Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) was up 1.9 percent at C$39.84.
All told, the S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE rose 108.24 points, or 0.85 percent, to 12,901.99, as nine of the 10 TSX sectors gained ground.
Uranium miner and processor Cameco Corp (CCO.TO) jumped 4.4 percent to C$37.58 after it said it signed a long-term agreement to supply uranium concentrate to China's state-owned nuclear power company. [ID:nSGE6AN0DZ]
Cameco was among the strongest issues in the heavily-weighted materials sector, which rose 0.17 percent despite weaker gold-producing stocks.
Fellow uranium producer Uranium One UUU.TO rose 6.9 percent to C$4.97 after the company received U.S. approval to proceed with a planned sale of a controlling stake of itself to a Russian state-owned miner. [ID:nN24218636]
Among declining issues, Maple Leafs Foods (MFI.TO) fell 10 percent to C$11.41, after the Ontario Teachers' Pension Plan said it would sell its 25 percent stake in the food processing company. [ID:nN24209129]
($1=$1.01 Canadian) (Reporting by Cameron French, additional reporting by Jennifer Kwan)