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By Leah Schnurr
TORONTO, Dec 20 (Reuters) - The Toronto Stock Exchange's main index managed a small gain on Thursday as sharp rises in the shares of Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (POT.TO) and Research In Motion RIM.TO helped offset a slide in banking shares.
Research In Motion RIM.TO gained C$4.43, or 4 percent, to C$106.52, lifting the tech sector 0.6 percent, ahead of the release of the BlackBerry-maker's quarterly results.
After the closing bell, RIM beat expectations for its third-quarter profit, but delivered a subscriber outlook that fell short of what analysts had predicted.
The S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 17.19 points, or 0.13 percent, at 13,407.01 with seven of the TSX's 10 main groups higher. The index has had small gains for two days in a row, but has closed lower in four out of six sessions.
The index is down 2 percent so far for December, a month that has historically been a positive one.
"We definitely did not get a Santa Claus rally this year, given that it looks like even Santa himself has got credit problems," said John Ing, president of Maison Placements Canada.
The materials group added 1.3 percent on Thursday, pulled higher by net gain leader Potash Corp of Saskatchewan (POT.TO), which was up C$7.95, or 6.4 percent, at C$131.96.
But the gold subsector was off 0.6 percent as gold prices slipped on the firmer U.S. dollar. Yamana Gold Inc (YRI.TO) fell 33 Canadian cents, or 2.8 percent, to C$11.61, and Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) was down 24 Canadian cents, or 0.6 percent, at C$37.40.
The banking sector lost 1 percent as North American financial stocks were rattled by a larger-than-expected loss from U.S. investment bank Bear Stearns Cos Inc BSC.N.
As well, MBIA Inc (MBI.N), the world's largest bond insurer, said it has exposure to $30.6 billion in complex mortgage securities that it insures. The amount is larger than its entire net worth.
In Toronto, all of the major banks declined, including Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO), which fell C$1.20, or 1.7 percent, to C$68.85.
Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO) was down 63 Canadian cents, or 0.9 percent, at C$70.51 the day after it warned of the possibility of a "large charge" in its first-quarter results due to its exposure to the U.S. subprime market.
Analysts said the index was also seeing the effects of tax-loss selling, the practice at the end of the year of selling underperforming stocks to claim the losses against income taxes.
"I never really take a lot of reading out of what happens in these last couple weeks of December until the tax-loss selling's behind us," said Brian Pow, vice-president, research and equity analyst at Acumen Capital Partners, in Calgary, Alberta.
"I think for 2008, the early weeks are going to be telling days in terms of what the year may look like," Pow added.
In individual stock activity, shares of specialty metals producer Timminco Ltd TIM.TO hit a record high after the company announced a new contract and the start of production at its solar silicon producing unit at Becancour, Quebec.
Timminco finished up C$2.95, or 18.9 percent, at C$18.53 after earlier hitting a record C$19.25.
Market volume was 399 million shares worth C$6.2 billion. Decliners outpaced advancers 890 to 782. The blue chip S&P/TSX 60 index .TSE60 closed up 1.79 points, or 0.23 percent, at 784.30.
In New York, luster in the tech sector also raised stocks after software maker Oracle Corp ORCL.O posted positive profit and outlook.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI ended up 38.37 points, or 0.29 percent, at 13,245.64, and the Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC rose 39.85 points, or 1.53 percent, to 2,640.86. ($1=$1.00 Canadian) (Editing by Peter Galloway)