BUSINESS

Toronto stock market heads higher ahead of holiday break, lower oil prices

12/24/2014 08:31 EST | Updated 02/23/2015 05:59 EST
TORONTO - The Toronto stock market posted a small advance Wednesday amid a shortened, pre-holiday session.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 15.21 points to 14,609.25, pushed up by gold issues. The Canadian dollar climbed 0.06 of a cent to 86.04 cents US.

Wall Street markets also mostly extended recent gains, with the Dow Jones industrials ahead 6.04 points to 18,030.21, adding to Tuesday's first-ever close above the 18,000-mark. The S&P 500 index was down 0.29 of a point at 2,081.88, while the Nasdaq added 8.05 points to 4,773.47.

Both the Toronto Stock Exchange and U.S. markets closed early at 1 p.m. ET and will remain closed on Christmas Day. Wall Street reopens Friday but the Toronto market will remain closed for Boxing Day.

U.S. markets have been boosted in recent days amid more signs that the American economy is continuing to strengthen.

The U.S. Labor Department reported Wednesday that the number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits has reached its lowest level in seven weeks. Applications for unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 280,000.

The four-week average, a less volatile measure, declined 8,500 to 290,250. That average has plunged 16 per cent in the past 12 months. As applications for benefits have steadily dwindled, hiring has improved. Employers added 321,000 jobs in November, the most in nearly three years.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Commerce Department revised upwards its GDP growth figures for the third quarter to five per cent from 3.9 per cent — growth that reflected a boost in consumer spending. Economists had expected the revision to show growth of 4.3 per cent.

In Russia, the central bank has made another move to shore up the battered ruble, offering hard currency loans to companies and banks to help them service their debts. The bank said borrowers can now put debt obligations as collateral against the loans. It's a major relief for Russian companies and banks, which can't tap foreign capital markets to refinance because of western sanctions.

The ruble has lost about half of its value since the year's start, dragged down by the sanctions and by sinking prices for oil, Russia's main source of revenue.

In corporate news, Brookfield Asset Management (TSX:BAM.A) has hiked its offer to Brookfield Residential Properties (TSX:BRP) for full ownership of the North American land developer and homebuilder. Brookfield Asset and its affiliates already own nearly 70 per cent of BRP's shares and Brookfield has now upped its offer by 5.4 per cent from the initial proposal. If accepted, the deal will cost Brookfield Asset about US$870.6 million in cash. Shares in Brookfield Asset gained 48 cents to $58.22, while Brookfield Residential stock rose $1.33 to $27.90.

Newalta Corp. (TSX:NAL) has an agreement to sell its industrial division for $300 million cash to a Toronto-based private equity firm. The division employs 950 people in more than 35 locations across Canada that handle various types of industrial waste. Newalta shares added $1.12 cents or nearly seven per cent to $17.73.

On the commodity markets, the February crude oil contract declined $1.28 to US$55.84 a barrel, as the energy sector led decliners by falling 0.92 per cent on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The February gold bullion contract was down $4.50 at US$1,173.50 an ounce, with the TSX gold sector advancing 3.21 per cent.

March copper lost a penny to US$2.85 a pound.

Follow @LindaNguyenTO on Twitter

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