* Host of data points to firming economy
* Weekly jobless claims fall to 15-year low
* Nasdaq tops 52-week high; just shy of all-time record
* Fitbit shares soar in IPO debut
* Indexes up: Dow 1.1 pct, S&P 0.96 pct, Nasdaq 1.28 pct (Adds details, changes comment, updates prices)
By Tanya Agrawal
June 18 (Reuters) - Wall Street jumped in late morning trading with the Nasdaq less than a point short of its all-time high after strong data suggested that the economy is improving and the Federal Reserve hinted that it will go slow with the pace of an interest rate hike.
The Nasdaq topped its 52-week high on April 27 and was just shy of its all-time high on March 10, 2000. The S&P and Dow were at their highest levels since early June.
The Fed said on Wednesday that the U.S. economy is likely strong enough to withstand an interest rate increase later this year but cut its economic growth forecasts for 2015 because of a weak start to the year.
Even though a majority of Fed officials continue to see higher rates by the end of 2015, they expect rates to rise slightly less by the end of 2016 and 2017 than they did in their March forecasts.
Fed Chair Janet Yellen said the central bank remains data-dependent, which will prompt investors to keep a sharper eye on the data in the coming months, especially on the monthly employment report.
“Today’s markets are higher on a combination of the data and the Fed signaling that it will begin raising rates this year but at a shallower pace,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at BMO Private Bank in Chicago.
“I think investors are getting comfortable with the Fed’s plans and anyway the first hike will be mostly symbolic.”
U.S. consumer prices in May recorded their largest increase in more than two years as gasoline prices surged while factory activity in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region expanded in June at a much faster pace than expected.
Other data showed the labor market continued to tighten as first-time applications for unemployment benefits declined last week to a near 15-year low.
At 11:16 a.m. ET (1516 GMT) the Dow Jones industrial average was up 197.59 points, or 1.1 percent, at 18,133.33, the S&P 500 was up 20.17 points, or 0.96 percent, at 2,120.61 and the Nasdaq Composite was up 64.83 points, or 1.28 percent, at 5,129.71.
All of the 10 major S&P 500 sectors were higher with the health index leading the gains with a 1.3 percent rise.
Apple’s 0.7 percent rise lifted the Nasdaq and the S&P 500, while 3M’s 1.8 percent gain was the biggest boost to the Dow. All 30 Dow components were in the black.
Greece continues to weigh on investors’ minds as the country drifts closer to a default.
Euro zone officials have not discussed the debt restructuring proposed by Greece because they want Athens to first implement the reforms it promised in exchange for loans it got from the euro zone, the head of euro zone finance ministers said.
Fitbit shares ran up as much as 60 percent to $31.90 in their debut, valuing the maker of popular wearable fitness-tracking devices at $6.5 billion.
Oracle shares fell as much as 8.7 percent to $40.97 - a nearly six-month low - a day after the company forecast a quarterly profit below analysts’ estimates.
Advancing issues outnumbered decliners on the NYSE by 2,160 to 729. On the Nasdaq, 1,929 issues rose and 682.
The S&P 500 index 32 new 52-week highs and two new lows, while the Nasdaq recorded 106 new highs and 20 new lows. (Reporting by Tanya Agrawal; Editing by Don Sebastian)