March 15, 2012 / 12:52 PM / 6 years ago

CANADA STOCKS-TSX may open higher on optimism about U.S. economy

March 15 (Reuters) - Canada’s main stock index looked set to open higher on Thursday, buoyed by stronger U.S. economic data and hopes it will support commodity price gains.

Optimism about prospects for Canada’s largest export market were boosted by data showing new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits fell back to a four-year low last week, suggesting further strengthening in the labor market there.

FACTORS TO WATCH

* Canadian equity futures pointed to a higher open.

* U.S. stock index futures advanced, indicating the S&P 500 may resume its upward march.

* European shares paused near eight-month highs with investors awaiting reassurance on the strength of the global economy and signs the improvement was filtering through into corporate earnings before pushing the rally further.

COMMODITY PRICE MOVES

* The Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index, a global commodities benchmark, fell 0.11 percent in early trade.

* Brent crude inched above $125, after falling more than a dollar the previous session, as traders balanced a firm dollar and bulging U.S. crude stocks with lingering concerns about tensions between Iran and the West.

* Gold regained some strength after a drop in the previous session attracted bargain hunters, but a strong dollar and fading expectations of more monetary easing in the United States made the metal vulnerable to more selling.

* Copper prices steadied, recovering after a 1 percent drop in the previous session, but concerns about the outlook for demand from top consumer China weighed on sentiment and kept prices within a tight trading range.

CANADIAN STOCKS TO WATCH

* Quebecor Inc. : The media conglomerate’s fourth-quarter profit rose 83 percent, helped in part by lower expenses and strength in its telecommunications business.

* Transat AT Inc. : The holiday travel operator reported a wider first-quarter loss, hurt mainly by high fuel costs

* Premium Brands Holdings Corp. : The specialty food maker reported a 63 percent fall in fourth-quarter profit hurt mainly by high input costs.

* Fairborne Energy Ltd. : The oil and gas explorer, said it may put itself up for sale as it explores strategic options to increase shareholder value, with other alternatives including a merger, recapitalization and the selling of assets.

* Pacific Rubiales : The oil and gas producer posted higher fourth-quarter profit on increased production at its Rubiales and Quifa SW oil fields.

* Birchcliff Energy’s : The oil and gas explorer’s fourth-quarter profit more than halved, hurt by declining natural gas prices in North America.

* Capstone Mining Corp. : The miner’s quarterly profit missed analysts’ estimates as a surge in copper production was offset by higher expenses and the company expects a modest increase in production in 2012.

ANALYST RECOMMENDATIONS

Following is a summary of research actions on Canadian companies reported by Reuters.

* AG Growth : National Bank Financial raises target to C$36 from C$34

* Baytex : National Bank Financial cuts price target to C$60 from C$63

* Birchcliff : CIBC cuts price target to C$12 from C$14

* Cervus Equipment : Canaccord Genuity raises target to C$21 from C$20, rating buy

* GMP Capital : CIBC cuts price target to C$14 from C$15

* Pure Energy : Canaccord Genuity raises target to C$12.50 from C$12, rating buy

* Semafo : CIBC cuts price target to C$11 from C$13

* Total Energy : RBC raises price target to C$20 from C$18, rating sector perform; CIBC raises price target to C$22.50 from C$22

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