TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index eked out its fourth straight gain on Wednesday, led by energy shares, but comments by German Chancellor Angela Merkel reignited worries about the euro zone debt crisis.
Half of Canada's 10 main sectors finished higher, reflecting investor uncertainty about the outlook for global growth.
"Canada is flat," said Pat McHugh, Canadian equity strategist at Manulife Asset Management. "We're not going to get anything moving here until we see a whiff of global growth."
The heavyweight oil and gas sector kept the broader index in positive territory, rising 0.3 percent. Energy shares climbed with oil prices amid rising tensions in the Middle East and as U.S. gasoline stocks unexpectedly fell last week. <O/R>
The biggest gainers included Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO), up 2.8 percent at C$28.07, Suncor Energy (SU.TO), which rose 0.7 percent to C$30.20, and TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO), up 1 percent at C$44.21.
The influential Canadian financial sector edged up 0.2 percent, as U.S. bank earnings continued to beat expectations.
The latest was Bank of America Corp (BAC.N), the second-largest U.S. bank, which posted quarterly earnings of $2.5 billion, reversing a year-earlier loss.
"At the end of the day the numbers have been better than expectations, and that has improved the sentiment toward the financials," said Bob Gorman, chief portfolio strategist at TD Waterhouse.
In Canada, financial gains were led by Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO), up 0.6 percent to C$80.37, Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO), which rose 0.5 percent to C$52.29, and Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO), edging up 0.3 percent to C$57.78.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE finished up 7.96 points, or 0.1 percent, at 11,579.15. At one point the index touched 11,615.38, its highest level since July 10.
Gains were pared by losses from the heavily weighted materials sector, which slid 0.5 percent. Gold fell as speculation faded that the cooling U.S. economy would imminently require more stimulus. <GOL/>
Also weighing was Cogeco Cable Inc (CCA.TO), whose shares plunged nearly 15 percent to C$37.90 after the company said on Wednesday it will pay $1.36 billion to buy U.S. cable operator Atlantic Broadband.
In other news, Agrium Inc (AGU.TO) shares jumped 3 percent to C$96.69 after the fertilizer maker and farm products retailer raised its second-quarter earnings forecast on Wednesday.
Worries about Europe's ability to solve its debt woes escalated after Merkel was quoted in a media report as saying, "We have not yet shaped the European project so that we can be sure that everything will turn out well, we still have work to do."
On Tuesday, U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that the U.S. economic recovery was being held back by anxiety over Europe's debt crisis. On Wednesday, Bernanke softened his tone, saying the world's top economy would experience "continued moderate growth.
Bernanke's remarks seemed to be supported by data that showed U.S. housing starts rose 6.9 percent last month to the highest since October 2008.
"There's something for the pessimists and there's something for the optimists," said McHugh. "On the whole things are better than expected."
Editing by Kenneth Barry