TSX closes higher amid positive U.S. economic data, Mideast ceasefire

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed higher Wednesday as U.S. data showed the economy steadily recovering, which took some of the sting from another failure by eurozone leaders to agree on a vital batch of bailout money for Greece.

The S&P/TSX composite index was ahead 53.78 points to 12,100.06 as indexes also moved higher on news that Israel and the Hamas militant group have reached a ceasefire agreement after eight days of fierce fighting.

The TSX Venture Exchange added 0.36 of a point to 1,242.66.

The Canadian dollar drifted 0.08 of a cent higher to 100.35 cents US amid rising oil and gold prices.

U.S. indexes were also higher as markets start to wind down for the American Thanksgiving holiday. New York markets are closed Thursday.

The Dow Jones industrials climbed 48.38 points to 12,836.89, the Nasdaq composite index was up 9.87 points to 2,926.55 and the S&P 500 index added 3.22 points to 1,391.03.

The U.S. Conference Board said the leading economic index, a gauge of future economic activity, rose 0.2 per cent in October after increasing a downwardly revised 0.5 per cent.

Other data showed American consumer sentiment holding up.

The latest reading of the University of Michigan’s consumer confidence index showed it inching up in November to the best reading in over five years because of rising optimism about the jobs markets.

The index gained slightly to a reading of 82.7, off from the original estimation of 84.9.

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply to a seasonally-adjusted 410,000 last week.

Applications dropped 41,000 from the previous week, when superstorm Sandy helped drive applications to their highest level in 18 months as many businesses in the area were forced to shut down. The four week average, a less volatile measure, rose 9,500 to 396,250.

Meanwhile, European Union finance ministers ended a marathon session Tuesday still unable to agree on a deal to give Greece the next instalment of bailout funds — the second consecutive meeting at which ministers couldn’t agree on a deal.

There has been disagreement among the ministers and the IMF, which gives bailout loans alongside the eurozone. The eurozone ministers are in favour of giving Greece an extra two years, to 2022, to bring its debt down to 120 per cent of gross domestic product from the 176 per cent forecast for this year. The IMF has resisted such an extension.

The eurozone finance ministers will try again on Monday to finally clinch an agreement on how to help Greece, which has been relying on international bailout loans since 2010.

The looming fiscal crisis in the U.S. continued to cast a shadow over markets. The TSX and New York indexes closed flat Tuesday as Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke made it clear that the Fed won’t be able to do much if the U.S. economy goes off the so-called fiscal cliff at the end of next month.

That’s when a series of deep spending cuts and steep tax hikes take effect. Economists believe that combination would shock the economy sufficiently to send it back into recession, dragging down other global economies with it.

“The Republicans can’t be the party of no forever and they’ve been basically told by the electorate that they want to see the country move ahead and I think they will agree to that,” said Chris King, portfolio manager at Morgan, Meighen and Associates.

“Obama has the moral authority and they need to do it right now.”

He added that lawmakers don’t have to arrive at a sweeping budget deficit deal.

They can very quickly agree to kick the can further down the road and defer final decisions.

Tech stocks led advancers, up 1.7 per cent while Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) rose 53 cents to $10.23 amid an announcement from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board that it is dropping RIM’s BlackBerry smartphone in favour of the new iPhone 5. The board says existing Blackberry devices have been failing both at “inopportune times” and at an unacceptable rate.

The gold sector was ahead about 1.2 per cent while December bullion moved up $4.60 to US$1,728.20 an ounce. Centerra Gold (TSX:CG) advanced 53 cents to C$9.70 while Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) climbed 38 cents to $34.63.

The financials group was ahead 0.64 per cent as National Bank (TSX:NA) was up 83 cents to $76.29 and Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC) rose 21 cents to $12.36.

The energy sector was ahead 0.2 per cent while oil prices gained ground. The January crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained 63 cents to US$87.38 a barrel. Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) gained 50 cents to C$33.12.

Western Canada oil companies Pinecrest Energy Inc. (TSXV:PRY) and Spartan Oil Corp. (TSX:STO) say they plan to form a single company with a combined enterprise value approaching $1 billion. Pinecrest shares slipped six cents to $1.81 while Spartan shares were 29 cents lower to $4.83.

The base metals sector led decliners, down about 0.5 per cent as December copper edged two cents lower to US$3.50 a pound. Turquoise Hill Resources (TSX:TRQ) fell 34 cents to $7.12 while Rio Alto Mining (TSX:RIO) dropped 16 cents to $5.03.

In the U.S., shares in farm and construction equipment maker Deere fell $3.16 to US$82.83 as it said its fourth-quarter net income rose 2.7 per cent to US$687.6 million or $1.75 a share, missing expectations by 13 cents. Revenue rose 14 per cent to $9.79 billion, which beat expectations of almost $8.9 billion.

It expects full-year 2013 net income of about $3.2 billion, which is a little more than analysts had been expecting.