North American markets mixed as investors await U.S. jobs figures

TORONTO – North American markets were mixed as investors sat on the sidelines ahead of Friday’s highly anticipated U.S. jobs data.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose for a second consecutive session Thursday, climbing 51.16 points to 13,596.41 on top of a 63-point gain Wednesday.

The increase came as Statistics Canada reported that growth in exports helped shrink the country’s trade deficit in July, indicating the economy is on track for growth in the second half of the year.

The Canadian dollar rose 0.44 of a U.S. cent to 75.79 cents US.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average soared 293 points after the European Central Bank said it stands ready to give the eurozone a bigger dose of stimulus should inflation across the 19-country bloc fail to pick up.

However, the widely watched index gave back most of the gain to finished the day up 23.38 points at 16,374.76, while the broader S&P 500 added 2.27 points to 1,951.13 and the Nasdaq gave back 16.48 points to 4,733.50.

“People are sitting on their hands and not wanting to do anything ahead of non-farm payrolls,” said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at CMC Markets Canada.

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department will release the latest non-farm payrolls report, which will show how many jobs the American economy gained or lost in August.

Consensus estimates call for American employers to have created 220,000 jobs last month, with the unemployment rate dropping to 5.2 per cent.

“The markets are on hold here waiting for the big numbers,” Cieszynski said. “People are just kind of catching their breath here and waiting to see what tomorrow brings.”

The data could indicate which way the U.S. Federal Reserve is likely to move on interest rates. Its next policy rate meeting is Sept. 16-17.

Chances of a September interest rate hike have diminished amid reports of an economic slowdown in China and recent volatility on global equity markets. However, Fed officials have refused to completely rule out a hike in rates that have been at historic lows since the Great Recession, citing continuing strength in the U.S. economy.

Canadian jobs data for August will also be released Friday.

On the commodity markets, the benchmark October crude oil contract rose 50 cents to US$46.75 a barrel, while October natural gas gained 7.7 cents to US$2.725 per thousand cubic feet.

December copper was up 5.5 cents at US$2.3845 a pound while December gold retreated $9.10 to US$1,124.50 an ounce.

Earlier in the day, European markets soared after ECB president Mario Draghi commented on the bank’s stimulus plans at a news conference. Germany’s DAX closed up 2.7 per cent, France’s CAC-40 up 2.2 per cent and Britain’s FTSE 100 rose 1.8 per cent.

Along with lower interest rates, the ECB is already pumping 60 billion euros a month into the economy through purchases of government and corporate bonds. The program is slated to run at least through September 2016.

— With files from Brian McKenna

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