*Toronto stock market finishes 0.5 percent higher
*Gains come even as oil drops to 22-month low
*Economic pall continues to hang over investors
By Wojtek Dabrowski
TORONTO, Nov 18 (Reuters) - The malaise hanging over global equity markets eased on the Toronto Stock Exchange on Tuesday, as a volatile session ended with the benchmark index nosing into positive territory as energy and financial stocks edged higher.
The session finished with a slight gain, which pales in comparison to the magnitude of losses experienced by the S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE since the start of the year, even as investor remained focus on the global financial crisis and the related fallout.
The gains made by energy and financials were offset by a decline in the materials sector, which sagged as the price of gold moved lower.
An upbeat earnings report by computer maker Hewlett-Packard HPQ.N also boosted the mood of U.S. investors, driving the Dow Jones industrial average higher and soothing fears of deepening economic gloom at least for now.
“It comes back to the same theme that there’s no safe haven in this market and there’s really is no good news to speak of,” said Elvis Picardo, analyst and strategist at Global Securities in Vancouver.
“Anything that’s even remotely negative or perceived as being negative can send a stock down very quickly,” he said.
Among stocks making gains, insurer Manulife MFC.TO jumped 6.2 percent to close at C$22.36 and engineering group SNC Lavalin SNC.TO added 5.4 percent to finish at C$31.42. Encana ECA.TO gained 2.1 percent to close at C$52.59.
Half of the 10 main index subgroups finished higher, including the energy sector, even as U.S. crude fell to a 22-month low over economic concerns.
Energy gained 0.52 percent, while financials added 0.97 percent. The heavyweight materials group shed 1.01 percent as gold gave up ground.
The S&P/TSX composite index gained 40.28 points, or 0.46 percent, to close at 8,835.73, rebounding from a session low of 8,659.26 and illustrating the market’s high degree of volatility.
Big losers in Tuesday’s trade included private-equity group Onex Corp OCX.TO, which fell 9.1 percent to close at C$16.60 and Power Financial Corp PWF.TO, which sagged 4.3 percent to end at C$27.74.
Even though December is approaching, the markets rally that often occurs in the last weeks of the year is nowhere to be seen, Picardo said.
“There continues to be a lot of skepticism and pessimism and that’s unusual for this time of the year,” he said. “If a rally were to occur, you would expect it to be well underway by this time, but it’s just not happening.”
Bruce Latimer, a trader at Dundee Securities, also said it’s tough to predict whether a year-end rally will occur, given the unprecedented market conditions.
“I think at this time, most people are just taking things day-to-day,” he said.
In the United States, the Dow Jones industrial average .DJI rose 151.17 points, or 1.83 percent, to 8,424.75 as Hewlett-Packard’s HPQ.N upbeat results trumped growing fears of a deepening global recession.
The tech-heavy Nasdaq was essentially flat, adding 0.08 percent to end at 1,483.27.
$1=$1.23 Canadian Reporting by Wojtek Dabrowski; editing by Frank McGurty