TSX advances, traders hope Fed meeting will shed light on future of stimulus

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed higher Tuesday as traders hoped that a two-day meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve will yield some guidance on the future of the central bank’s stimulus measures.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 78.56 points to 12,367.46 but the market was held back by declines in mining stocks amid falling prices for gold and copper.

The Canadian dollar was lower amid a stronger greenback, down 0.32 of a cent at 97.94 cents US.

U.S. indexes were also higher as traders looked to data showing that U.S. builders began construction on more single-family homes and apartments in May.

The Dow Jones industrials jumped 138.38 points to 15,318.23, the Nasdaq composite index gained 30.05 points to 3,482.18 and the S&P 500 index added 12.77 points to 1,651.81.

The U.S. Commerce Department says builders increased housing starts by 6.8 per cent last month to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 914,000, below expectations of 950,000. That followed a 14.8 per cent decline in April from March, which had the highest seasonally adjusted rate in five years.

Applications for building permits fell 3.1 per cent in May to a seasonally adjusted 974,000. That’s still close to the five-year high hit in April.

Other data showed that the consumer price index ticked up a seasonally adjusted 0.1 per cent last month, only the second increase in seven months.

Market players are wondering if the Fed feels that the U.S. economy could be at a point where the central bank can start to slowly let up on its program of bond purchases, which has been aimed at keeping interest rates and yields low. The program, involving the purchase of US$85 billion of bonds every month, has also helped fuel a strong rally on stock markets that has seen the Dow industrials surge about 15 per cent year to date.

Markets have been volatile since late May when Fed chairman Ben Bernanke first mooted the possibility of the central bank tapering its bond purchases. Triple-digit moves have become almost commonplace as traders grapple with whether the Fed will cut back and if so, when and by how much.

“It’s nervousness, fear of the unknown,” said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier.

“People don’t know if the economy is strong enough to withdraw some of the stimulus. If there was a good sense that we don’t need any more of this stimulus I don’t think we would be as nervous. But obviously there are investors out there that are questioning that.”

Investors were also spooked by an opinion piece in the Financial Times on Monday that said Bernanke will use a news conference Wednesday to signal the bank will start to cut back on its bond purchases each month.

The tech component was ahead 1.6 per cent with BlackBerry (TSX:BB) ahead 53 cents to $15.13 after RBC Dominion Securities boosted its outlook for the company, predicting a profit this fiscal year instead of a loss thanks to stronger-than-expected shipments of its new BlackBerry 10 devices. RBC analysts Mark Sue and Paul Treiber raised their BlackBerry 10 shipment forecasts to 3.5 million units for the fiscal first quarter, from their previous forecast of 2.75 million.

The consumer discretionary sector was also up 1.6 per cent and Tim Hortons (TSX:THI) rose $2.17 or four per cent to $56.05 after New York-based hedge fund Scout Capital Management upped its ownership stake in the Canadian restaurant chain to 5.5 per cent with a view to putting pressure on management to make changes to boost profitability.

The telecom sector was up 1.2 per cent with Telus Corp. (TSX:T) ahead 51 cents to $35.44.

Commodity prices were mixed with the July crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange up 67 cents to US$98.44 a barrel.

The energy sector was also ahead 1.2 per cent as Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) rose 51 cents to C$31.75.

The financial sector climbed 0.7 per cent and Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC) improved by 36 cents to $16.39.

The industrials sector also provided lift as Canadian National Railways (TSX:CNR) advanced $1.56 to $101.24.

Transport giant Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) announced that it has received an order worth up to US$1.035 billion from VistaJet, which operates a fleet of private business aircraft. VistaJet placed firm orders for 20 Challenger 350s and acquired options for 20 more of Bombardier’s long-range business jets during the second day of the Paris Air Show, a major event for the aviation industry. Its shares slipped 14 cents to $4.56.

The gold sector led decliners, down about three per cent as August bullion gave back $16.20 to US$1,366.90 an ounce. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) faded 51 cents to C$19.24.

The metals and mines sector dropped 1.1 per cent while July copper fell four cents to US$3.15 a pound. Lundin Mining (TSX:LUN) shed 16 cents to C$4.20.

In other corporate news, Hudson’s Bay Company (TSX:HBC) says its current president, Bonnie Brooks, has been named to the position of vice-chairman and Liz Rodbell, its executive vice-president and chief merchant, has been promoted to president. Its shares were off 52 cents to $16.23.