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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index advanced slightly on Monday as an upgrade of the U.S. credit outlook and strong domestic housing starts helped lift shares of financial companies, while energy shares rebounded from recent weakness.
Standard & Poor's upgraded its credit outlook for the United States government to "stable" from "negative", reducing the threat of a further downgrade to the country's sovereign debt rating.
The index's gains were kept in check by data from China that indicated weakness in May exports and domestic activity struggling to pick up, increasing the risk that economic growth will slow further in the second quarter and that full-year forecasts may be cut.
Monday's gain was a minor recovery after six days of decline for the TSX index. The energy sector, which has been on the defensive since mid-May, rose 0.2 percent and played the biggest role of any sector in the rise. Major gainers included Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO), which climbed 0.44 percent to C$31.80.
The TSX financials subgroup added 0.2 percent, helped by data showing Canadian house starts jumped by much more than expected in May from April.
E-L Financial ELF.TO jumped 9.5 percent to C$648 after the holding company said it had sold its Dominion of Canada General Insurance unit to U.S. insurer Travelers Co (TRV.N) for $1.1 billion.
"The banks recent earning reports have been on balance very solid," said Elvis Picardo, vice president of research at Global Securities. "Given the global decline in the appetite for risky assets, these groups have been doing well."
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 9.37 points, or 0.08 percent, at 12,382.67. Six of the 10 main sectors on the index were higher.
The materials sector, which includes mining stocks, gained 0.1 percent. Gold producers were up 0.36 percent as the price of bullion edged higher. <GOL/> Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO) rose more than 1 percent to C$20.81.
Air Canada ACb.TO said it is moving ahead with plans to trim its costs by up to some 15 percent over the medium term, even as it pushes to boost its system capacity over the coming year. The stock was little changed at C$2.28.
With additional writing by Cameron French; editing by Peter Galloway