TORONTO - An optimistic take on the European economy and solid earnings news pushed the Toronto stock market higher Thursday.
The S&P/TSX composite index gained 20.27 points to 15,103.11, well off session highs as traders looked to the release of the U.S. government's employment report for February on Friday. Economists generally expected the economy to have created about 235,000 jobs last month.
The Toronto market had run up about 106 points during the session after European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said the ECB had upgraded its growth forecast for the eurozone in 2015 to 1.5 per cent from 1.0 per cent.
Draghi says looking ahead, the ECB expects the economic recovery to broaden and strengthen.
"His remarks were clearly more positive than I think most people thought and more dovish, so overall I thought that was a huge win for markets," said John Stephenson, president and CEO of Stephenson and Co. Capital Management.
The Canadian dollar fell 0.58 of a U.S. cent to 79.96 cents.
New York's Dow Jones industrials rose 38.82 points to 18,135.72, the Nasdaq was ahead 15.67 points at 4,982.81 and the S&P 500 index climbed 2.51 points to 2,101.04.
Industrials led TSX advancers, up 0.55 per cent.
The base mining group was up 0.5 per cent with May copper off a penny at US$2.65 a pound.
The gold sector was up 0.75 per cent while April gold fell $4.70 to US$1,196.20 an ounce.
The consumer staples sector was up 0.1 per cent. Shares in George Weston Ltd. (TSX:WN) were 76 cents lower at $104.22 as the food company said adjusted earnings were $212 million or $1.58 per share, up sharply from $135 million or 98 cents in the prior-year period. Revenue of $11.73 billion beat estimates of $11.38 billion.
April crude in New York fell 77 cents to US$50.76 a barrel and the energy sector was down 0.2 per cent as energy company Encana (TSX:ECA) announced after the close Wednesday that it is tapping the markets with a share issue of $1.25 billion. The collapse in oil prices — down 50 per cent from the highs of last summer — has had a major impact on the cash flows of energy companies. Its shares were down 49 cents at $14.71.
"The lousy balance sheet means that they need to enter the equity market to shore it up, so without a doubt, it will be something that happens (to other companies)," he added.
On Thursday, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. (TSX:CNQ) said it almost tripled its profit in the fourth quarter to just under $1.2 billion or $1.09 a diluted share. Adjusted net earnings were $756 million or 69 cents per share, up from $563 million or 52 cents. The energy company is raising its quarterly dividend by half a cent to 23 cents per share.
Meanwhile, the company also announced a further $150-million cut in capital spending plans for 2015 and said members of its management committee were taking a 10 per cent pay cut. In January, the company had announced a $2.4-billion cut in capital spending to $6.2 billion. Its shares ran up $1.86 to $38.64.