CANADA STOCKS-TSX edges higher at midday, 8 sectors up

Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:16pm EST
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* Oil price retreats, pressures oil and gas sector

* Oilexco top loser and most traded; unit faces insolvency

* Labopharm up 47 pct; FDA approves pain drug Ryzolt

TORONTO, Dec 31 (Reuters) - Toronto's main stock index was modestly higher at midday on Wednesday, but was under pressure as a soft crude price weighed on energy issues and offset gains by other sectors.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's oil and gas group was off 0.7 percent as the price of crude held around $39 a barrel. The energy sector has fallen about 40 percent this year, tracking the price of crude, which is headed for a drop of more than 60 percent in 2008.

Oilexco OIL.TO was the most traded and biggest percentage loss leader, down 76 percent at 21.5 Canadian cents, as the oil and gas exploration company said its British unit faced insolvency. [ID:nLV536038]

At 11:50 a.m. (1650 GMT), the S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE was up 0.4 percent, or 32.85 points, at 8,863.57. Volume was light, with the trading week shortened by the New Year's Day holiday on Thursday, which also exaggerated moves.

Still, after two days of triple-digit gains, the TSX may be able to eke out another advance to finish its roller-coaster year on a high note, despite the wobbly oil prices.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed on Tuesday at its highest level in more than four weeks in a broad-based rally. But it is still down about 36 percent this year.   Continued...