* TSX up 77.92 points, or 0.63 pct, at 12,455.82
* Nine of 10 sectors stronger; info tech sags
* Viterra surges nearly 10 pct on takeover speculation
By Jennifer Kwan
TORONTO, March 15 (Reuters) - Canada’s main stock index ended higher on Thursday on a stream of U.S. data that lifted investor hopes that the economy of Canada’s largest trading partner is on the mend.
New claims for jobless benefits fell to a four-year low last week, suggesting an improving labor market, while surveys from regional Federal Reserve banks showed gains in manufacturing in New York and a pickup in business conditions in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region.
Among big names on the upside, Barrick Gold rose 1.5 percent to C$43.54, while Bank of Nova Scotia climbed 2.1 percent to C$55.35. Gold mining shares rose 0.3 percent and financials gained 1.1 percent.
Gold prices bounced up after shedding nearly 2 percent in the previous session, when they were hurt by growing optimism on the outlook for the U.S. economy, which boosted the greenback and risk assets such as stocks at the expense of the safe-haven precious metal.
“The recent economic data that has come out of the U.S. is bolstering the view that the economy out there is certainly on firm footing as far as the rebound is concerned,” said Elvis Picardo, strategist at Global Securities in Vancouver.
The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index rose 77.92 points, or 0.63 percent, to 12,455.82. Nine of the TSX’s 10 main sectors were in positive territory. The information technology sector sagged 0.08 percent.
Market observers said the heavyweight financial sector got a boost from life insurance stocks, which have soared this week as a more optimistic outlook from the U.S. Federal Reserve has lifted bond yields and brightened the profit outlook for the sector. Manulife Financial added 1.7 percent at C$13.72.
Viterra, Canada’s largest grain handler, soared 9.8 percent to C$16.09 after it said it has opened its books to potential buyers.
Shares of TMX Group finished the day up 3.1 percent at C$45.09 after Quebec regulators signaled they intend to approve a Canadian consortium’s C$3.8 billion bid to take over the operator of the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Market players expected some volatility ahead of Friday’s quadruple witching hour, which marks the expiration of not only equity options, but also stock index futures, stock index options and individual stock futures.