Toronto stock market closes flat amid weak mining stocks, positive earnings

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed little changed Friday as mining stocks fell alongside prices for gold and copper.

The S&P/TSX composite index had started the session off with a modest gain amid an early rise in oil prices and positive U.S. earnings news, but closed down 7.59 points at 12,816.03. The TSX Venture Exchange fell 2.2 points to 1,227.26.

The Canadian dollar fell 0.36 of a cent to 99.35 cents US, its lowest level since early August. The tumble came a day after closing below parity with the American currency for the first time since mid-November.

The loonie has been under pressure since the Bank of Canada indicated Wednesday that any interest rate increases will likely be further down the road than previously expected because of economic weakness. The dollar had found support in recent months partly on sentiment that the central bank could hike rates later this year.

Selling pressure on the currency increased Friday amid data showing inflation remained tame late last year. Statistics Canada said that the annual inflation rate was 0.8 per cent in December, the same as in November.

Friday’s economic data helped add to the decline in the loonie as weak price pressures mean that the central bank doesn’t have to raise rates to curb high inflation. Higher rates tend to attract investors and push up the currency.

New York’s Dow Jones industrials finished up 70.65 points at 13,895.98, the Nasdaq climbed 19.33 points to 3,149.71 and the S&P 500 index rose 8.14 points to 1,502.96, its first close above 1,500 since late 2007.

Other economic data showed that sales of new homes in the U.S. cooled in December compared with November, but sales for the entire year were the best since 2009. New home sales fell 7.3 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 369,000, down from November’s rate of 377,000.

For the year, sales rose to 367,000, which is still far below the 700,000 level that economists consider healthy.

“November was such a strong month that December might just be the fact that a lot of the growth happened earlier in the year as opposed to later,” said Sadiq Adatia, chief investment officer at Sun Life Financial.

“So overall, when you look at the U.S. economy, I think you’re seeing some signs of some strength there.”

Procter & Gamble stock was up 4.02 per cent to US$73.25 in New York as the maker of Tide and Pampers said quarterly net income more than doubled to US$4.06 billion, or $1.39 per share. Excluding items, it earned $1.22 per share, 11 cents better than analyst forecast. Revenue also beat expectations, rising two per cent to $22.18 billion.

The world’s largest consumer products maker also said it was boosting its profit outlook.

Oilfield services company Halliburton reported a 26 per cent decline in fourth-quarter net income, hit by costs from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, acquisitions and a seasonal slowdown in North America. But adjusted results beat expectations and its shares rose 5.05 per cent to US$39.72.

Microsoft stock erased early losses to move ahead 0.9 per cent to $27.88 after the software giant said after the close Thursday that it earned $6.4 billion, or 76 cents per share, in the final three months of the year. That was down four per cent from a year earlier. The company’s total revenue rose three per cent from last year to $21.5 billion. The earnings were a penny above estimates while revenue fell below analysts’ projections by about $100 million.

In Canada, shares in business software company Open Text Corp. (TSX:OTC) fell 20 cents to C$59.68 after it said Thursday that it earned US$61.1 million in the latest quarter, up from $47.4 million a year ago. Revenue in what was the company’s second quarter grew to $352.2 million, up from $321.5 million

Elsewhere in the tech sector, Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) was down 19 cents or 1.07 per cent to $17.61. Its stock has soared about 50 per cent since the beginning of the year — and 12 per cent this week alone — as enthusiasm builds ahead of the unveiling of RIM’s new BlackBerry 10 lineup on Wednesday.

The gold sector was the leading TSX decliner, down about two per cent as February bullion on the Nymex dropped $13.30 to US$1,656.60 an ounce. Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K) faded 42 cents to C$8.58 and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) gave back 58 cents to $35.81.

The base metals sector edged 0.47 per cent lower with March copper off two cents at US$3.65 a pound. Capstone Mining (TSX:CS) shed eight cents to C$2.49 while Rio Alto Mining (TSX:RIO) declined 10 cents to $5.31.

The March crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange slipped seven cents to US$95.88 a barrel.

The energy sector was up 0.3 per cent and Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) gained 25 cents to C$30.92.

In other corporate news, Fortress Paper Ltd. (TSX:FTP) tumbled 19.24 per cent to $8.69 after it said the startup of a co-generation project at its specialty cellulose mill will be delayed and costs will be 10 to 20 per cent higher than previously forecast. The company also said it expects to resolve “minor technical issues” soon as it continues to ramp up production of dissolving pulp.

Talisman Energy Inc. (TSX:TLM) said it is out to slash costs by cutting jobs and exiting high-risk exploration areas. Talisman had already announced it was winding down operations in Peru, where it was not able to establish a big enough resource to make it worth its while. It is likely to do the same in Poland, which has a nascent shale gas industry. Its shares were off 16 cents at $12.04.

The TSX ended the week up 0.7 per cent, led by a five per cent run-up in the tech sector, reflecting the sharp climb by RIM shares. And positive earnings news helped push the Dow industrials up 1.8 per cent.