March 11, 2010 / 10:42 PM / 9 years ago

CANADA STOCKS-TSX ekes out small gain, hits 17-month high

* TSX up 18.64 points, or 0.16 percent, at 11,979.70

* Highest closing level since September 2008

* Financials, golds help keep TSX above water

* China inflation data weighs on base metal miners (Adds details, quotes)

By Jennifer Kwan

TORONTO, March 11 (Reuters) - Toronto’s main stock index eked out a small gain on Thursday, reaching its highest close in 17 months and finishing higher for a second straight session, thanks to strength in financials and gold miners.

The financial sector rose 0.4 percent, with Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO) up 0.4 percent at C$59.40, and Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO) ahead 0.5 percent at C$58.05.

Canadian banks followed the lead of U.S. banks, which climbed higher as chances of a broad overhaul of U.S. financial regulation dimmed as bipartisan Senate talks collapsed. [ID:nN11219944] [.N]

Gold-mining shares firmed on largely steady gold prices, but gains were kept in check by lingering concerns about possible monetary tightening in China. Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) added 1 percent to finish at C$40.05.

Threatening to pull the market lower was the base metals sector, which weakened on concerns that higher Chinese inflation would spawn interest rate hikes. Investors are concerned that would slow Chinese economic activity and demand for resources. [ID:nTOE6290B5]

Teck Resources TCKb.TO dropped 1.4 percent to C$41.03, and copper miner Quadra Mining QUA.TO fell 2.2 percent to C$17.19. [METL/]

The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE finished the day up 18.64 points, or 0.16 percent, at 11,979.70, its highest level since late September 2008. The index moved in a tight range and hovered around the break even level for most of the day with no real drivers.

“I think there’s a stalemate between those that think the market is going higher and those that think they’ve reached some form of equilibrium or state of relative fair value,” said Tim Burt, president and chief investment officer at Cardinal Capital Management in Winnipeg, Manitoba. “Until you get one side taking leadership, the market just seems to be stuck.”

That sentiment was echoed by market watchers for most of the week as the index notched a lackluster performance after piercing the 12,000 mark.

“There’s a bit of resistance there. We’re going to be in this trading range until more positive news can push it through,” said Robert Lauzon, managing director of trading at Middlefield Capital Corporation.

The materials group ended marginally higher, up 0.1 percent, while energy shares ended down 0.01 percent.

Shares of Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO) were up 0.1 percent at C$49.15. The bank made further inroads into Asia on Thursday in a deal that merges its Thai subsidiary, Thanachart Bank, with local rival Siam City Bank, highlighting Scotiabank’s interest in the huge market potential of the Asia/Pacific region. [ID:nN11226159]

Transat AT Inc TRZb.TO fell 30 percent to C$13.70. The holiday travel company posted a first-quarter net loss, hurt by lower selling prices, and said it expects to post a loss in the second quarter. [ID:nSGE62A0HT]

The blue chip S&P/TSX 60 index .TSE60 closed 0.97 of a point higher, or 0.14 percent, at 702.50.

$1=$1.02 Canadian Reporting by Jennifer Kwan; editing by Rob Wilson

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