Stocks close little changed amid positive read on U.S. manufacturing data

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed little changed Wednesday, with the TSX balanced by higher telecom stocks and lower mining shares amid positive data from the U.S. manufacturing sector.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 15.65 points at 11,717.46 on thin volume as 2009 trading wound down.

With the TSX up about 30 per cent this year and the S&P 500 ahead almost 25 per cent, many investors have closed their books and are making few moves ahead of the start of 2010. With fewer traders in the market, price swings can be exaggerated.

"I think what you're seeing is kind of people squaring away positions for the end of the year," said Colin Cieszynski, market analyst at CMC Markets Canada.

"Nobody really wants to go out and jump and down and do any buying because there's nobody around and, at the same time, there hasn't been any major reason to sell other than the market went up several days in a row and they're just kind of due for a pause."

Markets had little response to a key economic indicator that signalled growth in the U.S. Midwest manufacturing industry for a third straight month. The Chicago Purchasing Managers Index rose to 60 in December from 56.1 in November. The report showed that production and new orders increased and employment improved.

"Chicago is one of those that tends to be looked at as a leading indicator of where the national number might go - and it came in pretty strong, so it's actually quite good news," added Cieszynski.

A stronger American currency pushed the Canadian dollar down 1.04 cents to 94.76 cents US.

The telecom sector gained 0.63 per cent with Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) ahead 40 cents to $32.63.

The TSX energy sector was up 0.28 per cent as the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a decline in last week's crude inventories that was largely in line with analysts' expectations.

The February crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained 41 cents to US$79.28 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) advanced 67 cents to $75.99.

The gold sector was ahead 0.27 per cent as the February bullion contract on the Nymex declined $5.60 to US$1,092.50 an ounce.

The base metals sector was down 0.54 per cent even as the March copper contract in New York gained three cents to US$3.34 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) gave back 83 cents to $37.76.

Cameco Corp. (TSX:CCO) announced Wednesday it had completed the sale of its stake in Centerra Gold (TSX:CG) for $871 million, marking the final stages of the uranium giant's withdrawal from the gold business. Cameco shares rose six cents to $33.90, while Centerra shares were unchanged at $10.35.

Shareholders of Castle Gold Corp. (TSXV:CSG) have tendered 91 per cent of the company's stock to Argonaut Gold Inc., which offered $1.29 per share in cash in a deal valued at $102 million. Argonaut plans to acquire remaining shares in the first quarter of 2010. Castle Gold shares added a penny to US$1.26.

The TSX Venture Exchange moved up 9.33 points to 1,492.89.

New York markets were flat with the Dow Jones industrial average up 3.1 points to 10,548.51.

The Nasdaq composite index was ahead 2.88 points to 2,291.28 while the S&P 500 index added 0.23 of a point to 1,126.42.

In other corporate news, The Bank of Nova Scotia (TSX:BNS) has increased its stake in Xi'an City Commercial Bank to 14.8 per cent, with plans to eventually hold 20 per cent of the Chinese bank.

Scotiabank will invest a total of $162 million to hold the maximum stake allowed for foreign bank investments in China, the bank announced Wednesday. Its shares were ahead 28 cents $49.72.

Canadian Real Estate Investment Trust (TSX:REF.UN) has acquired a 50 per cent stake in retail properties forming part of South Edmonton Common shopping centre for $39.2 million. Its units declined 74 cents to $26.86.

After the markets closed, the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed that it plans a fresh, US$3.8-billion cash infusion into GMAC Financial Services as it struggles with hefty losses in its home mortgage unit. The new money is on top of US$12.5 billion in taxpayer money that Detroit-based GMAC has already received from Washington and boosts the government's stake in the company to 56 per cent from 35 per cent.

Organizations: TSX, S&P, CMC Markets Canada Cameco Corp. Centerra Gold Castle Gold Rogers Communications U.S. Energy Information Administration New York Mercantile Exchange Canadian Natural Resources Nymex Teck Resources GMAC Argonaut Gold Dow Jones industrial average The Bank of Nova Scotia BNS Xi'an City Commercial Bank Scotiabank Canadian Real Estate Investment Trust U.S. Treasury Department

Geographic location: U.S., TORONTO, Chicago New York China South Edmonton Common Washington

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