TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian stocks closed slightly higher on Friday as banks gained ground ahead of earnings due next week, but global uncertainty lingered and gold miners retreated from a recent rally.
Direction was muted as investors held back, leaving the benchmark Canadian index at roughly the same level it started the week.
"The week is ending on a quiet note," said Pat McHugh, Canadian equity strategist at Manulife Asset Management. "It hasn't been a great day for good news."
The continuing saga of the European debt crisis hurt sentiment, while conflicting views from officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve muddied the outlook for monetary easing in Canada's main trading partner.
"The market is reflecting on the fact that there are still some problems in the world," said Michael Sprung, president at Sprung Investment Management.
Looking ahead, all eyes turn to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and other central bank leaders when they meet in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, next week for an annual get-together that often hints at what monetary policy is to come.
"Everyone will be looking forward to that to find out indication on timing and any indications of what sort of vehicles or options or strategies they will be implementing," Manulife's McHugh said.
In the meantime, the main Canadian index gained as heavyweight banks moved higher and telecom companies also rose.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 19.72 points, or 0.16 percent, at 12,082.23. It ended last week at 12,089.89.
Canadian banks are expected to post sluggish third-quarter profit growth next week on the back of slowing domestic loan growth and weakening capital markets, although two or three are likely to raise their dividends.
Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO) added 0.8 percent to C$53.73. It is the target of a complaint from insurance brokers who say the country's biggest bank is violating rules about tying banking and insurance products together.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO) gained 0.7 percent to C$76.15, while BCE Inc (BCE.TO), Canada's largest telecom company, rose 0.5 percent to C$44.62 and its rival Telus Corp added 0.7 percent to $64. A string of energy companies also figured among the brightest lights.
Gold miners were among the biggest drags, as investors took some profits after a recent rise.
The index has this week been pushed and pulled by shifting signals from Europe and the United States.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Friday said Germany and France wanted Greece to remain in the euro zone but that it must meet its reform targets.
Meanwhile, two officials at the U.S. Federal Reserve made conflicting comments about possible monetary easing, leaving investors unsure if the central bank will move.
In a letter obtained by Reuters on Friday, Fed chief Bernanke told a congressional oversight panel the central bank has room to deliver additional monetary stimulus to boost the U.S. economy.
"What investors are getting is conflicting signals out of all of this noise," Sprung said.
Editing by James Dalgleish