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* TSX ends up 0.47 percent at 11,944.54
* Gold stocks shine as bullion hits 3-week high
* Potash Corp leads index for 2nd straight day (Adds details)
TORONTO, Jan 6 (Reuters) - Toronto's main stock index ended higher for a fifth straight session on Wednesday, backed by a three-week high in the price of gold that lifted producers such as Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) and Goldcorp (G.TO).
Gold prices topped $1,140 an ounce [GOL/], lifting Barrick 1.65 percent to C$43.18, while Goldcorp rose 1.47 percent to C$43.38.
Energy players were also among the big movers, helping take the TSX composite index to a 15-month high as oil prices rose for a 10th straight day to settle above $83 a barrel, outweighing an unexpected rise in U.S. crude and gasoline inventories. [O/R]
Suncor (SU.TO) jumped 1.3 percent to C$39.25, while Talisman TLM.TO advanced 1.8 percent to C$20.23.
On the downside, the index's weighty financials group fell for a second straight session, shedding 0.44 percent as the selloff following its rally in December continued.
All five of Canada's biggest banks were lower, with four atop the list of top decliners. Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO) dropped 1.45 percent to C$47.52.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 56.46 points, or 0.47 percent, at 11,944.54. Seven of its 10 main groups were higher, led by a 2.3 percent rise in the materials group and an 0.82 percent rise in the oil and gas group.
"The oil (inventory) numbers, even though they were relatively bearish, the whole complex isn't that bad today on the oil and gas side," said Lex Kerkovius, senior research analyst at McLean & Partners Wealth Management Ltd in Calgary.
"It's actually doing fairly well so that's helping. I think it portends what's going to come down the road here. You're going to see a lot more strength in the oil and gas as we head into 2010."
Potash Corp (POT.TO) played the biggest role of any individual stock in leading the index higher for a second straight session.
The shares added 3.44 percent to end at C$127.23 after the fertilizer producer won an analyst upgrade and as fellow producer Mosaic Co (MOS.N) said on Wednesday it expects shipments of potash to increase in 2010. [ID:nN06160066]
Commodity-based stocks have started the year on a positive note, fueled by optimism that demand for resources will rise further as the global economy recovers from its deepest downturn since the Great Depression.
"We continue to see a broad-based rally in base metals and precious metals that has a two-fold emphasis," said Peter Chandler, senior vice president at Canaccord Wealth Management.
"One, growth coming from the Pacific Rim, China and India, and demand for base metals. And in the case of precious metals, a response to merger and acquisition activity and the benefit that it typically gets from a weak U.S. dollar."
Ivanhoe Mines Ltd (IVN.TO) shares rose 3.05 percent to C$17.23 after the owner of the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold project in southern Mongolia said it may sell shares or debt, sell off a subsidiary, or look at other options as it develops the mine. [ID:nN06209449]
Data on Wednesday pointed to a steady if unspectacular recovery as the U.S. service sector grew marginally in December but private sector job losses were larger than expected. [ID:nN06314739]
In Canada, the country's top economists said the economy should grow firmly in the first half of 2010 but that the pace could slacken later in the year. [ID:nN06159691]
Analysts said the market is sharpening its focus on Canadian and U.S. jobs data due out on Friday.
$1=$1.03 Canadian Reporting by Ka Yan Ng and Claire Sibonney; editing by Peter Galloway