CANADA STOCKS-TSX near 18-month high, buoyed by Agrium, RIM
* TSX rises 41.36 points, or 0.32 percent, to 12,835.41 * Seven of 10 main sectors advance * Agrium up 3.5 percent on outlook boost * RIM rises on report of Lenovo interest By John Tilak TORONTO, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index hit a near 18-month high on Thursday, as shares of Agrium Inc rose after the fertilizer maker raised its profit forecast and as U.S. manufacturing and labor data drove optimism on the economic outlook of Canada's largest trade partner. Shares of Research In Motion Ltd also boosted the market, rising more than 3 percent after a report that China's Lenovo Group said a bid for the BlackBerry maker was among the options available to boost its mobile business. Canadian stocks were also supported by data that showed Chinese manufacturing growth hit a two-year high this month. Gains were kept in check by falling gold stocks, which slipped with the price of the precious metal. In the United States, a private survey showed that factory activity advanced at the fastest pace in nearly two years this month, while the government reported the number of Americans filing new claims for jobless benefits hit a five-year low last week. "There's a growing feeling that we're heading in the right direction. The U.S. economy is showing a little bit of life, and that's spilling over into Canada," said Fred Ketchen, director of equity trading at ScotiaMcLeod. The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index was up 41.36 points, or 0.32 percent, at 12,835.41, after touching 12,863.47, its highest since Aug. 2, 2011. Seven of the 10 main sectors on the index were trading higher. The materials sector, which includes mining stocks, slipped 0.1 percent as declines in gold stocks offset a rise in shares of fertilizer giants Agrium and Potash Corp. Agrium rose 3.5 percent to C$114.55 after it raised its fourth-quarter earnings forecast as strong grain and oilseed prices spurred demand for its fertilizer products over the fall season. Ketchen, noting the activity in Agrium shares over the past few days, said, "People are taking another look at it, thinking maybe it's time to get back in." Potash was up 2.1 percent at C$42.77. The energy sector gained 0.6 percent and was the biggest contributor to the market's gains as U.S. crude oil prices rose. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd rose 1.5 percent to C$30.62. Financials, the index's weightiest sector, added 0.4 percent. Toronto Dominion Bank was up 0.4 percent at C$83.51, and the Royal Bank of Canada rose 0.3 percent to C$61.62.
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