BUSINESS

TSX advances amid hopes ECB set to take action on borrowing costs

09/05/2012 08:46 EDT | Updated 11/05/2012 05:12 EST
TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed higher Wednesday as buyers hoped that the European Central Bank will unveil measures to help contain the eurozone debt crisis.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 48.44 points to 11,990.14 led by financial and mining stocks while copper prices advanced for a third day, while the TSX Venture Exchange added 3.69 points to 1,246.27.

The Canadian dollar was lower ahead of the ECB announcement and Canadian jobs data which also comes out on Friday, falling 0.52 of a cent at 100.92 cents US.

As expected, The Bank of Canada left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at one per cent while warning that rates will have to rise at some point in the future. The central bank also said that there has been a widespread slowing of activity across most economies.

The loonie seemed unaffected by Tuesday's Quebec election which saw the pro-independence Parti Quebecois win the contest, but only securing a minority government.

New York markets were little changed. The Dow Jones industrials were up 11.54 points to 13,047.48, the Nasdaq composite index was down 5.79 points to 3,069.27 and the S&P 500 index eased 1.5 points to 1,403.44.

Traders anxiously awaited Thursday's interest rate announcement from the European Central Bank amid hopes the ECB will move to ease the eurozone debt crisis by addressing the high borrowing costs that have bedevilled some of the weakest members of the monetary union, particularly Spain. It is expected some sort of bond-buying program will be announced but it would come with strings attached.

To be eligible for the central bank’s help, for example, countries would likely have to formally apply for assistance from the eurozone's rescue facility and accept conditions on their budget policies, which many governments would be reluctant to do.

"The best thing we can hope for is the European Central Bank to get its firepower all lined up and try to cap rates and do that in a way that doesn’t stoke inflation and allows time to pass and finances to get a bit healthier," said Paul Vaillancourt, vice president and chief investment officer at Canadian Wealth Management.

"In times of crisis, sometimes the best you can expect is do no harm."

Investor sentiment improved somewhat as Bloomberg News reported European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s bond-buying program involves unlimited purchases of government debt.

Europe's economy also remains fundamentally weak. A survey of the eurozone's services sector on Wednesday showed the sector continued to contract in August. The so-called purchasing managers' index fell more than earlier estimated, suggesting the currency bloc is headed for a sharp drop in GDP in the third quarter.

Markets also looked ahead to Friday's release of the August non-farm payrolls report to see if a weak report would persuade the U.S. Federal Reserve to embark on another round of stimulus.

Nervousness about a slowing global outlook was heightened after FedEx, viewed as an economic bellwether, cut its first-quarter earnings guidance, pointing to weakness in the global economy. Its shares were down two per cent in New York to US$85.79.

Both FedEx and larger rival UPS have warned about the impact of slower economic growth on their results. In July, UPS said customers were worried about what’s in store in the second half of the year. The delivery companies have cut or reduced the frequency of flights in Asia, as shipments both within the region and to Europe and the U.S. have slowed.

The base metals sector edged up 0.54 per cent while December copper on the Nymex was up six cents at US$3.53 a pound. Lundin Mining (TSX:LUN) rose 15 cents to $4.57 and Capstone Mining (TSX:CS) climbed five cents to $2.40.

The gold sector was ahead almost one per cent as December bullion shed $2 to US$1,694 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) added 38 cents to C$40.45.

The financials sector was up 0.67 per cent with TD Bank (TSX:TD) ahead 89 cents at $81.13 and Royal Bank (TSX:RY) climbed 78 cents to $55.64.

The energy sector was slightly higher with the October crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange ahead six cents to US$95.36 a barrel. Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) climbed $1.28 to C$46.35.

Utilities led decliners as TransAlta (TSX:TA) fell 57 cents to $14.11.

TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) says it has submitted a supplemental environmental report to Nebraskan authorities on the preferred alternative route for its Keystone XL pipeline.

TransCanada says the filing reflects feedback both from state regulators and the public. It also respects state timelines and the overall regulatory process for determining a reroute of the controversial pipeline as requested by the U.S. State Department. TransCanada shares were unchanged at $44.88.

Elsewhere on the corporate front, Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (TSX:ATD.B) cites costs related to its acquisition of Statoil Fuel & Retail for a 26 per cent drop in quarterly net earnings. The Quebec-based convenience store and fuel station operator posted net profits of US$102.9 million, or 57 cents per diluted share in the quarter ended July 22. Its shares fell $1.13 to $49.07.

Nokia revealed its first smartphones to run the next version of Windows, a big step for a company that has bet its future on an alliance with Microsoft. Investors were disappointed, and Nokia’s stock fell 16.25 per cent to US$2.37 in New York.

Shares in BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) hit a new 52-week low of $6.45 before recovering slightly to close down eight cents to $6.46.

Its stock hit the new milestone as Canaccord Genuity analyst T. Michael Walkley said in a research report that he expects RIM to release its BlackBerry 10 smartphone as scheduled in the first quarter of next year. But he says that RIM has lost too much smartphone market share to Apple and Android and will mightily struggle to win back consumers even if BlackBerry 10 smartphones are very competitive and compelling products.