*TSX climbs 62.38 points
*Gold-mining shares jump 3.39 percent
*Potash Corp rises 4.92 percent
*Merrill Lynch sees market falling further (Adds details, comments on outlook)
By Lynne Olver
TORONTO, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Toronto’s main stock index eked out a modest gain on Tuesday, led by gold-mining stocks and fertilizer producer Potash Corp POT.TO, but pre-Christmas trading was light and stuck to a narrow range.
Six of 10 TSX groups ended higher, after the index swung between positive and negative territory. The mining-dominated materials group gained 3.14 percent and the heavyweight energy group rose 1.27 percent despite lower prices for gold and oil futures contracts.
The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE rose 62.38 points, or 0.76 percent, to close at 8,311.91.
“Some of the strength today seems to be on the commodity side, I think it may be people just bargain-hunting near yearend or redeploying some of the funds from tax-loss selling,” said Michael Sprung, president of Sprung & Co Investment Counsel.
Tax-loss selling, in which investors realize losses on securities to offset capital gains taxes, must settle before the last business day of the calendar year, making Wednesday the last day for such sales to count as it takes three days to settle trades.
“Certainly we aren’t seeing the kind of radical volatility that we’ve been used to lately,” Sprung said. “I feel like it’s a bit of a respite.”
Potash Corp POT.TO, the world’s biggest fertilizer producer, rose 4.92 percent to C$83.23, after saying late on Monday that it had repurchased 2.95 million of its common shares WNAB5414.
Gold-mining issues gained ground even though gold futures fell 1 percent to $838.10 an ounce in New York.
Barrick Gold (ABX.TO), which named former mining executive Aaron Regent its new president and chief executive on Tuesday, jumped 4.16 percent to C$41.30, and Agnico-Eagle Mines (AEM.TO) rose 3.92 percent to C$56.43.
“Although oil prices haven’t been helping, the bulk of the oil stocks are up,” said Paul Hand, managing director at RBC Capital Markets.
Crude oil futures slipped 2.3 percent to $38.98 a barrel in New York.
The blue chip S&P/TSX 60 index .TSE60 closed 4.17 points higher, or 0.84 percent, at 503.13.
On Wall Street, poor housing and gross domestic product data hurt U.S. stocks.
The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI fell 100.28 points, or 1.18 percent, to 8,419.49, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index .IXIC ended down 10.81 points, or 0.71 percent, at 1,521.54.
Trading volume in Toronto is expected to remain light as investors take time off for the Christmas holidays.
“In general, there are no broad themes other than people sneaking out here and there to do a little shopping, and a lot of people probably headed home early,” Hand said.
With just four trading days left on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and the S&P/TSX composite down 39.9 percent year to date, participants are already hoping for a better 2009.
“It’s been a long year, people are worn down,” Hand said.
But a bearish report on Tuesday from Merrill Lynch Canada economist David Wolf suggested that stock investors could be in for more pain.
Wolf said there is “still downside” for Canadian equities, and his end-of-2009 target for the TSX composite is 8,000 — or 3.75 percent below Tuesday’s close.
$1=$1.21 Canadian Reporting by Lynne Olver; editing by Peter Galloway