* TSX up 3.93 points at 12,151.19
* U.S. jobless claims rise; home sales trend higher
* Six of index’s 10 sectors lower (Updates to early afternoon, adds quote)
TORONTO, Sept 23 (Reuters) - Toronto’s main stock index was little changed on Thursday afternoon as the market sought direction as it digested a mainly bearish set of U.S. economic data.
The index’s hefty energy and materials groups were slightly lower despite rises in oil and copper prices. Gold prices held near record highs . [O/R] [MET/L] [GOL/]
Oil company Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) fell 0.8 percent to C$33.20, and base-metals miner Teck Resources TCKb.TO dropped 1.8 percent to C$39.19, while Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) was up 0.2 percent at C$48.73.
The TSX index’s uncertainty followed fresh signs of U.S. labor and housing market weakness, which rekindled fears that the U.S. economic recovery remains anemic. [.N] [MKTS/GLOB]]
U.S. weekly claims for jobless insurance jumped unexpectedly, highlighting continued weakness in the labor market, and though existing home sales rose in August, the rise was from severely depressed levels. [ID:nN23130114]
“What this market really needs to get a sustainable long-lasting rally is a little more conviction in the economic data coming out that shows that in fact the recovery is improving better than what the Street is expecting it to,” said Gareth Watson, Canadian equity advisor at ScotiaMcLeod.
At 1:17 p.m. (1717 GMT), the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE was up 3.93 points at 12,151.19. Six of the index’s 10 main sectors were lower, however.
“Employment is very key in the United States ... you need to see a pickup in that job creation,” Watson said.
He said that at the current rate of U.S. job creation, it will take eight years to gain back the millions of jobs lost between 2008 to 2009.
“Equally as important are real estate prices. You can’t expect the U.S. consumer to go out and continue to consume if the value of their properties and their own personal wealth continues to decline.”
Cushioning the index from a more severe decline, the key financial group was up 0.4 percent, which Watson said could be partly due to bargain-hunting after a sharp sell-off in the previous session.
Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO) rose 0.6 percent to C$52.95, and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO) added 0.8 percent to C$73.97.
In individual company news, MDS Nordion MDS.TO gained 0.9 percent to C$10.43. MDS, one of the world’s largest suppliers of medical isotopes, said on Thursday a state-owned Russian producer will become one of its suppliers. [ID:nSGE68M0EZ]
The healthcare sector was a bright spot, up 1.5 percent, due to MDS and Biovail BVF.TO, which jumped more than 5 percent to C$27.97 ahead of next week’s shareholder vote on its merger with Valeant Pharmaceuticals International.
Manulife Financial Corp (MFC.TO) was up 0.5 percent at C$12.85 after the insurer said it is eyeing acquisitions to bulk up its mutual fund business. [ID:nN23133708]
Potash Corp POT.TO fell 0.8 percent to C$150.16 after filing a lawsuit against BHP Billiton (BHP.AX) (BLT.L) to fend off the miner’s $39 billion hostile takeover bid, intensifying the Canadian fertilizer supplier’s struggle to find a more attractive offer. [ID:nN22227579]
($1=$1.03 Canadian) (Reporting by Claire Sibonney and Jennifer Kwan; editing by Peter Galloway)