* C$ at C$1.0414 vs US$, or 96.02 U.S. cents * Decent North American data helps both currencies * C$ gains against string of other major currencies By Alastair Sharp TORONTO, July 18 (Reuters) - The Canadian dollar was flat against its U.S. counterpart but gained against other major currencies in early trade on Thursday, as stronger-than-expected second-tier data helped both currencies climb against global peers. The loonie, as Canada's currency is colloquially known, rose strongly against the yen as investors reduced exposure to that currency ahead of a weekend election. It also notched gains against the Australian dollar. The number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits dropped more than expected last week to its lowest level in four months, a possible sign that hiring in the economy of Canada's largest trading partner could pick up in July. Meanwhile, Canadian wholesale trade grew by a stronger-than-expected 2.3 percent in May from April, the biggest monthly jump since January 2011, due mainly to higher sales of fertilizer and food, Statistics Canada said on Thursday. While the data was supportive, currency traders remain focused on possible plans by the Federal Reserve to move away from ultra-loose monetary policy soon. The prospect of less stimulus has boosted the U.S. dollar against a range of currencies. "That's the default position at the moment; if there's no news the (U.S.) dollar grinds up," said Adam Cole, global head of currency strategy at Royal Bank of Canada. "And the Canadian dollar has suffered least, as it generally does when markets are dollar-directional." Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is set to testify before U.S. lawmakers again on Thursday following testimony on Wednesday. At 9:10 a.m. (1310 GMT) the Canadian dollar was trading at C$1.0414 to the greenback, or 96.02 U.S. cents, the exact level it closed at on Wednesday. Cole said the pair was unlikely to break out of the C$1.0350 to C$1.0450 range it has traded in for the past week. The price of Canadian government debt was mixed, but with little price action. The two-year bond was off less than a Canadian cent to yield 1.094 percent, while the benchmark 10-year bond was unchanged to yield 2.375 percent.