Feb 17 (Reuters) - Toronto’s main stock index looked set to open weaker on Thursday, a day after hitting a 31-month high, as firm oil prices and strong results from Barrick Gold and Sun Life Financial were offset by data showing a rise in U.S. jobless claims.
* Canadian equity futures <0#SXF:> were slightly lower
* Canada’s dollar hit its highest since May 2008 against the U.S. greenback on Thursday morning, helped by cautious optimism on the U.S. economy from the U.S. Federal Reserve. [CAD/]
* S&P 500 stock index futures added to losses on Thursday after data showed both a rise in consumer prices and new claims for unemployment benefits. [.N]
* European shares were flat after hitting 29-month highs in the previous session, with falls in industrial goods firms offset by gains in food stocks after upbeat results from Nestle NESN.VX. [.EU]
* Asian shares were mostly up with Japan’s Nikkei rising for a fourth session to a 9-1/2-month high with core blue-chip stocks outpaced advances in small and mid-size cap shares.
* The Thomson Reuters-Jefferies CRB index .CRB, a global commodities benchmark, rose 0.32 percent in early trade.
* North Sea Brent crude oil steadied around $104 per barrel, near a two-and-a-half-year high, as Israel-Iran tension and unrest in the Middle East stoked fears of a disruption of oil flows. [O/R]
* Gold rose for a fourth day in a row on Thursday, in its strongest run since September, helped by a softer dollar and by the unrest spreading across the Middle East that lured investors to safe-haven assets. [GOL/]
* Copper stumbled to three-week lows on Thursday as inflation worries and the demand-stifling effect of prices near record highs kept sentiment in check. [MET/L]
* Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) reported a better-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, as increased sales volumes and record-high gold and copper prices more than offset the impact of higher production costs.
* Kinross Gold (K.TO): The gold miner said on Wednesday its fourth-quarter profit fell nearly 11 percent, largely because of higher production costs. [ID:nN16176953]
* Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. (AEM.TO): The company on Wednesday said its fourth-quarter profit rose sharply on the back of record high gold prices and higher gold production. [ID:nN16179724]
* Nexen Inc. NXY.TO: The independent oil explorer’s fourth-quarter profit fell 15 percent as production dropped. [ID:nN16181128]
* Sun Life Financial (SLF.TO): The insurer said on Wednesday its fourth-quarter profit jumped 71 percent, topping analyst’s estimates, as rising stock markets and bond yields boosted the company’s investments. [ID:nN16243387]
* Finning International Inc. (FTT.TO): The company said on Wednesday it expected to sell more Caterpillar mining and construction equipment and post higher revenue as commodity prices keep rising in 2011. [ID:nN16188039]
* Peyto Exploration & Development Corp. PEY.TO: The oil and gas explorer raised this year’s capital budget by about a third to C$300 to C$325 million to ramp up production and expand reserves.[ID:nL3E7DG2FE]
* Birchcliff Energy Ltd. (BIR.TO): The oil and gas explorer posted a higher-than-expected quarterly income on increased production, and forecast a 41 percent higher average production for 2011. [ID:nSGE71F09B]
* Winpak Ltd. (WPK.TO): The maker of packaging materials and machines on Wednesday posted a higher fourth-quarter profit on higher demand for its products. [ID:nSGE71F09J]
Following is a summary of research actions on Canadian companies reported by Reuters. [RCH/CA]
* Avalon Rare Metals (AVL.TO) coverage started with speculative buy rating; target price of C$10.50 at Mackie Research
* Birchcliff Energy (BIR.TO) price target raised to C$10.50 from C$10.25; rating market perform at Raymond James
* Enerplus Corp (ERF.TO) price target raised to C$30 from C$26.50; rating hold at Citigroup
* Finning International (FTT.TO) rating cut to market perform from outperform at Raymond James
* Gran Tierra Energy (GTE.TO) price target raised to C$12 from C$11.50; rating strong buy at Raymond James
* Parex Resources PXT.V price target raised to C$11 from C$9.50; rating outperform at Raymond James
* Pengrowth Energy (PGF.TO) price target raised to C$12.50 from C$12; rating hold at Citigroup
* Tahoe Resources (THO.TO) price target raised to C$21.75 from C$19.50; rating speculative buy at Canaccord Genuity
* Winpak Ltd (WPK.TO) price target raised to C$12.50 from C$12; rating market perform at Raymond James
$1= $0.98 Canadian Reporting by Shrutee Sarkar; editing by Jeffrey Hodgson