TSX shakes off losses, racks up solid gain despite European debt, jobs worries

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed higher on Friday after a volatile session highlighted by investor turmoil over doubts that European countries can get their massive deficits under control and mixed employment reports.

Surging gold stocks helped the S&P/TSX composite index come back from a 138-point deficit to close 94.36 points higher at 11,223.12 despite worries over whether Greece, Portugal and Spain can successfully push through austerity measures.

The showing helped the TSX break a four-week losing streak, finishing up 1.16 per cent.

But the market is still down 523 points or 4.5 per cent since the beginning of January.

Hopes had been high that the American economy would show some job growth in January. Instead, the U.S. Labour Department's non-farm payrolls report said the economy shed 20,000 jobs last month.

On the bright side, the jobless rate moved down three-tenths of a point to 9.7 per cent. That was because a different department survey of households found the number of Americans with jobs rose by 541,000.

"This was one of those reports where the negative column was offset with the positive column, leaving us to maintain our view that the U.S. labour market remains on the slow path to recovery," said Ian Pollick, economics strategist at TD Securities.

The American jobless report came on the heels of employment data for Canada, which showed the addition of 43,000 new jobs in January, pushing the country's unemployment rate down by one-tenth of a percentage point to 8.3 per cent.

However, most of these were part time and only about 1,500 full-time jobs were added.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.24 of a cent to 93.46 cents.

European worries centre on whether governments can deliver the deficit cuts they have promised in the face of strong public opposition.

On Friday, Portugal's opposition parties defeated a government austerity plan and passed their own bill allowing the country's autonomous regions to rack up even more debt. That raised new questions about the ability of European countries to control their swollen budget deficits, which is undermining faith in the region's euro currency. Greece and Spain are also grappling with massive budget deficits.

Nicholas Colas, chief market strategist at ConvergEx Group in New York, said the worries about European debt have been exacerbated because European Central Bank head Jean-Claude Trichet has not shown that he has the situation under control.

"It's that void that concerns people," Colas said.

Investors worry that if regulators can't help stem problems now, they could end up snowballing, he said.

The TSX closed well above early lows as gold stocks jumped despite falling bullion prices and as early losses in energy companies moderated.

The April bullion contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange declined $10.20 to US$1,052.80 an ounce but the gold sector rose 5.4 per cent. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) advanced $2 to C$38.45 while Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) gained $2.61 to $38.19.

Tech stocks were also supportive by the end of the day, with the sector up 1.57 per cent and Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) ahead $1.59 to $72.55.

The base metals sector was up 0.56 per cent, as March copper gave back two cents to US$2.86 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) gained 31 cents to C$34.20 and First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) lost $2.71 to $69.50.

The energy sector was the main decliner, down 0.46 per cent as oil prices continued to head lower after falling almost US$4 on Thursday. On Friday, the March crude contract on the Nymex was down $1.95 to US$71.19 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) lost 81 cents to C$69.29 while EnCana Corp. (TSX:ECA) fell 41 cents to $32.55.

The TSX Venture Exchange was up 3.23 points to 1,455.41.

New York indexes also came back from early tumbles. The Dow Jones industrials, down about 170 points at one stage, closed up 10.05 points to 10,012.23 for a slight 55-point loss for the week.

The Nasdaq composite index was 15.69 points higher to 2,141.12 while the S&P 500 index advanced 3.08 points to 1,066.19.

In corporate news, Toyota's president apologized for the automaker's global recalls. Toyota Motor Corp. president Akio Toyoda said the company was still deciding what to do to fix braking problems with the popular Prius gas-electric hybrid.

Toyoda said the company was moving quickly on the global recalls covering 4.5 million vehicles for sticking gas pedals. In New York, Toyota shares snapped a string of sharp declines to close up $2.93 to US$74.71.

Brookfield Properties Corp. (TSX:BPO) reported Friday that net income tumbled nearly 60 per cent in the fourth-quarter, compared to a year earlier when it booked one-time tax gains.

The New York-based spinoff of conglomerate Brookfield Asset Management (TSX:BAM.A), which reports in U.S. dollars, said earnings were US$181 million, or 35 cents per share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31. Brookfield Properties shares gained 42 cents to C$13.60 while Brookfield Asset Management shares were 31 cents higher at C$22.61.

Oilsands developer UTS Energy Corp. (TSX:UTS) says it will be able to access less bitumen than previously thought because of environmental restrictions. UTS says the Fort Hills and Frontier projects have had a total of nearly 150 million barrels removed from their contingent resource estimates.

UTS has a 20 per cent share of the Fort Hills project, as does Teck Resources. Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) owns the remaining 60 per cent stake. UTS shares were unchanged at $2.52 while Suncor was ahead 19 cents at $31.90.

Organizations: TSX, S&P, U.S. Labour TD Securities Toyota Motor Research In Motion Ltd. Teck Resources ConvergEx Group European Central Bank New York Mercantile Exchange Barrick Gold Brookfield Properties Corp. Goldcorp Inc. Brookfield Asset Management First Quantum Minerals Nymex Canadian Natural Resources EnCana Corp. Dow Jones UTS Energy Suncor Energy

Geographic location: TORONTO, Greece, Portugal Spain U.S. New York Canada

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