TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed higher Friday amid better than expected trade data from China.
The S&P/TSX composite index gained 45.31 points to 12,801.23 while the TSX Venture Exchange was off 0.3 of a point at 1,205.81.
The Canadian dollar was lower on disappointments in Canadian job creation and housing starts. It skidded 0.47 of a cent to 99.73 cents US as Statistics Canada reported the economy shed 21,900 jobs last month. Economists had looked for a gain of about 5,000.
The agency also revised downward the number of jobs created in December to 31,000 from 40,000.
The jobless rate, however, decreased 0.1 of a point to seven per cent on a technicality — almost 58,000 Canadians left the workforce in January or ceased looking for employment.
Earlier, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reported that housing starts plunged to 160,600 in January, down considerably from a revised 197,100 reading in December. Economists had looked for starts to come in at 195,000.
Traders also took in data showing that Chinese exports rose 25 per cent in January from a year earlier, while imports soared 28 per cent.
But a large part of the increase was due to companies rushing to fill orders before shutting down for up to two weeks for the Lunar New Year holidays that begin Sunday.
“The Chinese data is encouraging because you had stronger exports, which implies that demand in the developed countries, in North America and Europe, was reasonably good,” said Norman Raschkowan, North American strategist at Mackenzie Financial Corp.
“And then you had stronger than expected imports which, for Canada, is good because that suggests that probably they had decent demand for commodities that we’re so anxious to sell. I think it’s like a win-win.”
The Dow Jones industrials also benefited from a strong U.S. trade report and gained 48.92 points to 13,992.97. The Nasdaq was up 28.74 points at 3,193.87 while the S&P 500 index rose 8.54 points to a fresh, five year high of 1,517.93.
In the U.S., the trade deficit narrowed sharply in December as oil imports plummeted and total exports rose. The smaller trade gap means the American economy likely performed better in the final three months of last year than first estimated last week.
The U.S. Commerce Department says the trade deficit fell nearly 21 per cent in December to US$38.6 billion. Exports rose 2.1 per cent while imports shrank 2.7 per cent.
Canada’s trade deficit with the world fell more than expected in December. Statistics Canada said the deficit came in at $901 million, down from $1.7 billion in November.
Merchandise imports fell 2.8 per cent in December while merchandise exports declined 0.9 per cent.
The financials sector was the leading group, up 0.56 per cent as Manulife Financial continued to find lift from a well-received earnings report released Thursday, up 29 cents to $14.84.
IGM Financial Inc. (TSX:IGM) rose 17 cents to $43.10 as the mutual fund company saw its fourth-quarter net profit fall to $202.9 million, or 80 cents per share. That’s down from 89 cents per share or $230.6 million in the comparable period of 2011. Fourth-quarter revenue was also down, falling to $632.7 million from $649.6 million.
Crude had earlier benefited from the Chinese data but the March oil contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange ended the session down 11 cents to US$95.47 a barrel. The energy sector climbed 0.5 per cent and Talisman Energy (TSX:TLM) advanced 16 cents to C$12.75.
The tech sector was up 0.46 per cent as MacDonald Dettwiler (TSX:MDA) rose $1.14 to $65.94.
BlackBerry shed early gains and was down 40 cents to $16.51. Still, the stock has soared from last Friday’s close of $13.01 after the smartphone maker launched its new Z10 product into the Canadian marketplace on Tuesday amid much hype. It won’t be available in the U.S. until mid-March.
The consumer staples component also provided lift with food company Saputo Inc. (TSX:SAP) ahead 82 cents to $51.65.
The utilities component was the biggest percentage decliner, down just over one per cent. Shares in Just Energy Group Inc. (TSX:JE) plunged $1.31 or 13.39 per cent to $8.47 after the natural gas and electricity retailer slashed its dividend, missed analyst revenue expectations, and announced that it wants to put in place a shareholder rights plan.
March copper on the Nymex added three cents to US$3.76 a pound. China is the world’s biggest consumer of the metal, viewed as an economic bellwether as it is used in so many applications. However, the base metals sector fell almost one per cent. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) was down $1.17 to C$33.28, adding to a loss of about six per cent Thursday amid a weak production forecast included in the miner’s latest earnings report.
April bullion shed early gains to move down $4.40 to US$1,666.90 an ounce, leaving the gold sector flat. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) gained 15 cents to $32.84.
In other earnings news, Brookfield Infrastructure (TSX:BIP.UN) is increasing its dividend by 15 per cent to 43 cents per unit even as the Bermuda-headquartered owner of utilities, rail and timber assets reports lower net income in the fourth-quarter. Brookfield units were ahead $1.32 to $39.82.
The TSX finished the week little changed, up a slight 0.25 per cent to preserve a solid gain during January that saw the market rise by two per cent. New York indexes have also largely moved sideways since racking up a strong advance last month where the Dow industrials ran ahead about six per cent.