Toronto stock market, Canadian dollar higher; U.S. markets also advance

TORONTO – North American stock markets closed higher Thursday on the strength of encouraging economic reports from both north and south of the border on the last day of trading before the Easter weekend.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 84.07 points at 15,026.62, while the loonie rose 0.39 of a U.S. cent to 79.59 cents.

In economic news, Statistics Canada said the country’s trade deficit shrank to $984 million in February from a revised $1.5-billion deficit in January, much better than the $2-billion deficit economists had expected.

However, the improvement was largely due to prices as export volumes fell 3.3 per cent and import volumes slipped 1.7 per cent.

Craig Jerusalim, portfolio manager at CIBC Asset Management, said that although the trade figures played a role, the Toronto Stock Market also benefited from encouraging reports from south of the border on factory orders and unemployment.

“The economic numbers in the U.S. have been strong and the U.S. is our largest trading partner, so we’re benefiting from the strength to the south,” Jerusalim said.

In New York, The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 65.06 points to 17,763.24, while the Nasdaq rose 6.71 points to 4,886.94. The S&P 500 index gained 7.27 points to 2,066.96.

The U.S. Labor Department said applications for jobless aid last week fell 20,000 to a seasonally adjusted 268,000, putting jobless claims near a 15-year low of 267,000 filings in late January.

And orders to U.S. factories rose 0.2 per cent in February, the first increase since July, a welcome development for manufacturers struggling with disappointing economic growth in major trading partners like China, Europe and Japan.

Jerusalim said the upcoming wave of corporate earnings reports will demonstrate how much of a boost Canadian companies that do business with the U.S. are seeing from the weakened Canadian currency.

“Really, what’s going to dictate the direction of the markets over the next couple of weeks is earnings season, and whether companies can show earnings growth in this relatively volatile environment,” he said.

On the commodity markets, the May crude oil contract slipped 95 cents to US$49.14 a barrel as traders predicted that a preliminary pact on Iran’s nuclear program could add to the glut of global supply.

“If that situation is worked out then all of a sudden you could see some of Iran’s excess supply being released onto the market and at $50 oil, additional supply is the last thing we really need,” Jerusalim said.

Meanwhile the June gold bullion contract fell $7.30 to US$1,200.90 an ounce.

Shares of Suncor Energy Inc. (TSX:SU) were up $1.40, or 3.76 per cent, to $38.65 on news that the company’s cost-cutting efforts are moving ahead better than expected.

And TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) saw its shares boosted by 68 cents to $54.44 after the Calgary-based company called off its plans to build a marine terminal near a beluga whale habitat at Cacouna, Que.

Markets in Toronto and New York will be closed on Good Friday and reopen again on Monday.