Stock markets head for positive open amid surge in Chinese exports

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market appeared headed for a positive open Monday as commodity prices shot up in the wake of bullish Chinese economic data.

The Canadian dollar moved up 0.43 of a cent to a three-month high of 97.43 cents US.

Investors were encouraged by a surprisingly strong rebound in China's exports in December, jumping 18 per cent, which was much more than the five per cent increase expected. It was also the first increase in more than a year.

"Markets have taken this as confirmation that global recovery is still based on solid foundations," said Anthony Grech, market strategist at IG Index in London.

U.S. futures also headed higher following the Chinese economic data, with the Dow Jones industrial futures ahead 29 points to 10,595, the Nasdaq futures gained 4.75 points to 1,894.75 and the S&P 500 futures rose 3.6 points to 1,145.2.

Oil and metal prices also advanced with the February crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange ahead $1.10 to US$83.85 a barrel.

The February bullion contract in New York advanced $18.90 to US$1,157.80, while March copper rose nine cents to US$3.49 a pound.

On the economic calendar, housing starts for December blew past expectations.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. says that the seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts reached 174,500 units in December 2009.

This is an increase from an annual rate of 164,800 units in November.

It's also higher than the 161,800 units that had been forecast.

CMHC said there were solid increases in both single and multiple starts to end 2009.

The Chinese export data helped ease some of the concerns that emerged Friday after figures showed that 85,000 U.S. jobs were lost in December, which was substantially higher than the flat showing that was expected.

However, some of the sting was taken out of Friday's jobs news by the revision to November's figures to show that there actually positive jobs growth of 4,000, instead of the initial estimate of 11,000 losses.

Canadian employment data also disappointed investors, with the economy losing 2,600 jobs last month.

Investors will be keeping a close eye on the start of the fourth-quarter earnings season to see if the increasing optimism on stock markets, that has seen stocks enjoy a ten-month bull run, is justified by the fundamentals.

As usual, aluminum company Alcoa Inc. kicks off the U.S. results season after the close.

Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group, said much of the attention will be on whether companies are witnessing improvements in sales. Analysts are forecasting a 7.6 per cent increase in fourth quarter U.S. corporate revenues compared with the same three-month period in 2008.

"The real story will be on the top of the income statement, however, rather than the bottom," said Colas.

On the corporate front, wholesale fertilizer producer Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU) is expanding its retail presence in Canada. Agrium already has a major retail presence in the United States and is one of Canada's largest producers of fertilizer for domestic and international customers. The Calgary-based company says it's now establishing 33 retail outlets in Alberta and Saskatchewan under the name Crop Production Services (Canada).

Talisman Energy Inc. (TSX:TLM) plans to spend $5.2 billion on capital projects in 2010, a 10 per cent increase over 2009. The Calgary-based international oil and gas company says North American shale properties will receive $1.6 billion of that, or more than one-third of the total. Talisman and other producers have been working to unlock huge amounts of natural gas from shale rock formations that was once too difficult to tap.

TransAlta Corp. (TSX:TA) says it will spend $100 million to expand the Kent Hills wind facility southwest of Moncton, N.B. The Calgary-based company will sell the electricity produced at the expanded wind farm to New Brunswick Power.

Overseas, Hong Kong's Hang Seng benchmark climbed 0.5 per cent and Shanghai's main index added 0.5 per cent.

Japan's stock market was closed for a holiday.

Elsewhere, Singapore's market rose 0.3 per cent and Australia's index was up 0.8 per cent.

London's FTSE 100 index gained 0.39 per cent, Frankfurt's DAX rose 0.59 per cent, while the Paris CAC 40 climbed 0.4 per cent.

Organizations: Canada Mortgage and Housing, Dow Jones, S&P TSX New York Mercantile Exchange Agrium Inc. Alcoa Inc. ConvergEx Group Crop Production Services Talisman Energy Inc. North American TransAlta Corp. FTSE 100

Geographic location: United States, TORONTO, London China Canada New York Alberta Saskatchewan Kent Hills Moncton Hong Kong Shanghai Japan Singapore Australia Frankfurt

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