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Jan 17 (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index looked set to open higher on Thursday, as encouraging corporate earnings from major Wall Street companies buoyed investor sentiment.
* UnitedHealth Group Inc, the largest U.S. health insurer, said that fourth-quarter profit rose from a year earlier, exceeding the outlook it gave in November, and also backed its previous forecast for earnings and revenue in 2013.
* Rio Tinto sacked chief executive Tom Albanese and revealed a $14 billion writedown in connection with his two most significant acquisitions, the Alcan aluminium group and Mozambican coal.
* Sun Life Financial Inc and Malaysian state investor Khazanah will buy 98 percent of Aviva Plc's Malaysian insurance joint venture with lender CIMB for C$586 million.
* Improved investor sentiment toward struggling southern European economies helped Spain cut debt costs at an auction, allowing it to reach nearly 9 percent of the year's longer term borrowing needs.
* Airlines scrambled to rearrange flights as Europe, Japan, Qatar and India joined the United States in grounding Boeing Co's 787 Dreamliner passenger jets while battery-related problems are investigated.
* Canada stock futures traded up 0.14 percent
* U.S. stock futures , , were up around 0.06 percent and 0.21 percent
* European shares, were up
* Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB Index : 299.553; rose 0.3 percent
* Gold futures : $1,679.8; fell 0.17 percent
* US crude : $94.76; rose 0.55 percent
* Brent crude : $110.14; rose 0.42 percent
* LME 3-month copper : $7,959.75; rose 0.22 percent
* Bank of Nova Scotia : ING Direct Canada will cease selling mortgages through brokers next month due to overlap with the larger broker-sourced mortgage business of its parent company, a bank spokesman said on Wednesday.
* Barrick Gold Corp. : Tanzania-focused gold company African Barrick Gold posted a 9 percent drop in annual production despite a pick-up in mining in the fourth-quarter.
Following is a summary of research actions on Canadian companies reported by Reuters.
* CML HealthCare Inc. : RBC cuts price target to C$7.25 from C$7.50 on valuation, says the shares had a run recently and the divestment announcement and dividend cut was in line with expectations.
* Denison Mines Corp. : RBC raises price target to C$2.25 from C$2 after the company said it has entered into a friendly deal with Fission Energy whereby Denison will acquire Fission and spin out certain assets and cash into NewCo.
* Major Canadian economic data includes Canadian and foreign securities
* Major U.S. events and data includes jobless claims, housing starts and Philadelphia Federal Reserve business activity survey