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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index closed moderately higher on Wednesday, aided by a rise in TransCanada Corp (TRP.TO) after the company announced a C$6.5 billion pipeline deal, but gains were tempered by caution over the outlook for global economic growth.
TransCanada shares rose 2.4 percent to C$48.39 after the country's largest pipeline operator revealed plans to build C$6.5 billion worth of natural gas pipelines for Progress Energy Canada, a unit of Malaysia's state-owned Petronas, in British Columbia.
The market, however, stayed anxious over the fallout from last month's fiscal crisis in the United States and ahead of policy meetings of European central banks.
Investors are keeping a close eye on whether the U.S. fiscal-cliff scare affected fourth-quarter earnings and corporate forecasts, said Elvis Picardo, strategist and vice president of research at Global Securities in Vancouver.
"This is the first indication we are going to get from many of the bellwether companies about how they see 2013 shaping up," he said.
Alcoa Inc (AA.N), the largest aluminum producer in the United States, said on Tuesday it expects demand for the metal to grow in 2013, helped in part by strong sales to aerospace and construction customers.
"It's Alcoa's earnings yesterday that's setting the mood," said Serge Pepin, vice president of investment strategy at BMO Asset Management Canada. "If the earnings season can show itself as relatively positive or better than expected, the mood can really solidify on that."
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE climbed 17.43 points, or 0.14 percent, to 12,522.24. Seven of the index's main groups rose.
"Though we've gone through averting the fiscal cliff, investors still feel anxious about the first quarter of this year. Europe has not gone away, although we're seeing some stability there," Pepin said.
Spain and Italy will hold their first debt sales of the year on Thursday, which may reveal the depth of demand for peripheral euro zone debt. The Spanish auction could also offer clues on the timing of a much-anticipated request by the government for international financial aid.
The index's materials sector, which includes mining stocks, reversed earlier losses to end a marginal 0.05 percent higher, tracking steady gold and copper prices. Commodities market sentiment remained cautious over the global growth outlook and ahead of the central bank meetings in Europe. <GOL/><MET/L>
First Quantum Minerals Ltd (FM.TO) fell 4.41 percent to C$20.59 after the Canadian base metals miner took its takeover bid for smaller competitor Inmet Mining Corp IMN.TO hostile.
"Commodities continue to be a drag. As a result, the TSX has begun the year looking like it's probably going to lag the S&P 500 for the third year running," Picardo said.
"Commodity prices are caught in a slump. But that is unlikely to improve until we have concrete evidence of a turnaround in the global economy," he added.
The index's energy sector finished up 0.04 percent after trading lower earlier in the session as TransCanada's gains offset a 0.55 percent decline in Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) to C$29.18, and a 1.08 percent retreat by Canadian Oil Sands Ltd COS.TO to C$20.09. Encana Corp (ECA.TO) was down 0.66 percent at C$19.42. Oil prices fell and weighed on the group. <O/R>
Shaw Communications shares edged up 0.75 percent to C$22.71 after the company reported a higher quarterly profit and raised its dividend.
Alliance Grain Traders Inc (AGT.TO) shares jumped 10.23 percent to C$14.11 after Cargill Inc agreed to a five-year deal to be the exclusive seller in North America of proteins made by Alliance subsidiary United Pulse Trading Inc.
Editing by James Dalgleish; and Peter Galloway