UPDATE 2-Toronto stocks lifted by US data, Agrium results

Wed Feb 13, 2008 1:37pm EST
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TORONTO Feb 13 (Reuters) - The Toronto Stock Exchange's main index was up more than 150 points on Wednesday afternoon, gaining steam from hot energy shares and strong results from Agrium Inc (AGU.TO: Quote).

Investors also digested the latest U.S. economic data that showed retail sales rose unexpectedly in January, boosting hopes that the United States might avoid a recession.

By early afternoon, the Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE was up 153.11 points, or 1.2 percent, at 13,240.49.

Eight of the TSX index's 10 main groups were higher, led by a 1.8 percent boost in the big energy group and a 1.2 percent push from the resource-heavy materials group.

"This is a decent trading day for everybody on the heels of some good retail news, which provided a reason to probably look through things and find some good stock picks," said Brian Pow, vice-president of research at Acumen Capital Partners in Calgary, Alberta.

Among materials issues rising were Agrium, which added C$2.42, to C$65.44, and Barrick Gold (ABX.TO: Quote), which rose 33 Canadian cents to C$48.53 despite stagnant gold prices.

Agrium rebounded to a fourth-quarter profit as soaring grain markets created strong demand for fertilizer.

Energy shares climbed on the back of firm U.S. crude oil prices, which rose above $93 a barrel on a smaller-than-expected increase in U.S. stockpiles and on supply worries after Venezuela said it would stop selling crude to Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM.N: Quote) due to an intensifying legal dispute over a nationalized oil project.

Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO: Quote) gained C$2.95 to C$65.94, and EnCana Corp (ECA.TO: Quote), which is due to report results on Thursday, rose 56 Canadian cents to C$69.96.

Canadian Natural said on Tuesday costs for its Horizon oil sands project have risen to as much as C$8.7 billion, C$1.9 billion more than initial estimates, as severe cold at its northern Alberta project site has hampered construction. ($1=$1.00 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Anderson; Editing by Peter Galloway)