TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s main stock index rose slightly in thin trade on Friday as investors remained worried about the looming “fiscal cliff” in the United States, but insurance and energy shares rose.
Stocks pared gains after U.S. President Barack Obama said any deal with Congress to avert a fiscal crisis must come with higher taxes on the wealthiest Americans, suggesting an agreement to avoid automatic tax hikes and spending cuts is not imminent.
“The market is not focusing on Europe right now. The market is focusing on what’s going on in America. That’s the only leg in the stool that’s keeping everything together right now,” said John O’Connell, chief executive of money manager Davis Rea.
Investors fear that if lawmakers cannot reach a compromise on reducing the U.S. budget deficit, the $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax rises scheduled to kick in beginning in January will drive the United States back into recession.
Five of the 10 TSX subgroups finished higher, as strong oil prices helped drive a 0.24 percent rise in energy shares, while insurers led the heavily weighted financials sector 0.48 percent higher.
Sun Life Financial (SLF.TO) rose 3.3 percent to C$26.14, while Manulife Financial (MFC.TO) climbed 3.1 percent to C$12.18 after both insurers released stronger-than expected third-quarter results this week.
Weighing on the index was the materials group, which fell 0.85 percent as gold miners gave up some of their gains from earlier in the week.
The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE ended the session up 5.75 points, or 0.05 percent, at 12,196.80. Volume was light with a total of 302.7 million shares traded. For the week, the index fell 1.5 percent.
“On the whole, global growth expectations have taken a little bit of a trip to the downside this week and the TSX has suffered from those revised expectations,” said Elvis Picardo, strategist and vice president of research at Global Securities in Vancouver.
Data showing that U.S. consumer sentiment rose to its highest level in more than five years and U.S. wholesale inventories rose in September by the most in nine months failed to change the mood.
In individual company news, shares of Canadian home-improvement retailer Rona Inc RON.TO jumped 8.2 percent to C$10.12 after it said longtime CEef executive Robert Dutton was stepping down.
The resignation could signal a change in strategy at Rona, which earlier this year rejected a takeover offer from U.S.-based rival Lowe’s Cos Inc (LOW.N).
Telus Corp (T.TO) climbed 1.5 percent to C$64.49 after Canada’s third-largest wireless company reported an 8 percent rise in third-quarter profit.
Attention over the weekend will focus on a Greek parliament vote on its 2013 budget set to take place on Sunday. The budget must be passed to unlock a further tranche of international aid.
Reporting By Cameron French; additional reporting by Claire Sibonney; Editing by Leslie Adler