Toronto stock market ends higher while oil prices pull back on inventory levels

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market turned in a small gain Wednesday despite a retrenchment in oil prices.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 24.76 points at 15,213.60, extending a rally that began over a week ago.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.21 of a U.S. cent at 79.76 cents.

Buoying the market in part were TSX financials, which rose 0.6 per cent, with nearly all of the major banks higher.

The metals and mining sector gained 1.2 per cent, while the price of copper edged back 3.2 cents to US$2.73 a pound.

Energy stocks took a hit overall, with the sector dropping 2.3 per cent following the latest oil inventory report that showed U.S. crude stockpiles registered the largest single-week jump since 2001. The Energy Information Administration said crude inventories rose by 10.9 million barrels to 482.4 million.

The May crude contract settled down $3.56 at US$50.42 a barrel.

Gold stocks were lower as the June bullion contract was down $7.50 at US$1,203.10 an ounce.

New York markets were higher as investors pondered minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve’s March 17-18 meeting on interest rates, which showed Fed officials were in wide disagreement over when the next rate hike should occur.

Several looked to a hike in June, but others, concerned about lower inflation, favoured waiting until later this year while still others said the U.S. economy was not strong enough to support a hike until 2016.

BMO Capital Markets analyst Michael Gregory suggested that while the Fed minutes show a lean towards starting rate hikes as soon as June, there are several other factors that should be considered.

“The fact that the acknowledged moderation in economic growth appears to have spilled over into the labour market — not known at the time of the March meeting — should get more participants gravitating to the September-or-later liftoff camp,” he said in a note.

“All (Fed) eyes are on the economic growth and inflation consequences of an appreciating greenback.”

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average closed ahead 27.09 points at 17,902.51, the Nasdaq soared 40.59 points to 4,950.82 and the S&P 500 rose 5.57 points to 2,081.90.

Traders in the United States will be focused on the wave of first-quarter earnings reports due in the coming weeks, and widely expect to see signs of weakness.

“This is the first time in many years where the earnings are going to be down year-over-year,” said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at 3MACS.

“Though it is energy specific, investors are cautious to see what the rest of the landscape will look like.”

Alcoa was the first major company to report its results after stock markets closed. The metals company beat analyst expectations with quarterly earnings of 28 cents a share, though its revenue came in slightly below estimates at US$5.82 billion.

On Thursday, both Postmedia Network Inc. (TSX:PNC.B), owner of the National Post, and cable channel operator Corus Entertainment (TSX:CJR.B) are scheduled to issue their second-quarter results, while Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) will hold its annual meeting in Ottawa.

Follow @dj_friend on Twitter