Toronto Stock Exchange makes tiny gain as crude prices settle at five-year low

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market eked out a small gain on Friday as crude oil prices settled at a five-year low.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed relatively flat, up 3.75 points to 14,473.70. The TSX was down 1.8 per cent for the week.

The Canadian dollar ended at 87.47 cents US, down 0.44 of a cent, after a slight increase in the country’s unemployment rate in November.

TSX energy stocks pulled back 0.1 per cent as January’s crude oil contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 97 cents at US$65.84 a barrel — its lowest level since May 2009.

Crude oil prices have plunged about 38 per cent since mid-summer because of lower demand and a glut of supply, due in large measure to greatly increased production in the U.S. Midwest.

Economists and traders have questioned how much further the price could decline in the coming months.

“From my experience, the market overshoots to the upwards or downside,” said Allan Small, a senior adviser at HollisWealth.

“So it wouldn’t surprise me if the price of oil fell a lot more and became something ridiculous before it snapped back to a more reasonable level.”

Helping keep the TSX positive were mining stocks, which rose 1.2 per cent, and the information technology sector, which climbed 2.5 per cent following a deal by OpenText (TSX:OTC).

The Waterloo, Ont., business software company announced it was buying software analytics company Actuate Corp., based in Silicon Valley, for US$330 million. OpenText intends to fund the takeover with cash on hand, and said the agreement has already been approved by boards at both companies. Shares of OpenText rose 2.9 per cent, or $1.91, to $68.

Financial stocks on the TSX were 0.09 per cent lower, weighed by a selloff in banks, as the country’s biggest financial institutions wrapped up a disappointing earnings season.

Profits at Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) weakened in the fourth quarter as it recognized severance expenses for a recently announced downsizing and other items. The bank’s net income fell 14 per cent from last year to $1.438 billion. Its shares fell $1.38 to $66.20.

National Bank (TSX:NA) boosted its profits a modest three per cent to $330 million and said its quarterly dividend will rise by four per cent to 50 cents per common share with the next payment. Its shares were off 70 cents to $49.70.

In commodities, February bullion dropped $17.30 to US$1,190.40 an ounce, while March copper declined about a penny to US$2.90 a pound.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials gained 58.69 points to 17,958.79. The Nasdaq picked up 11.32 points to 4,780.76 while the S&P 500 index inched ahead 3.45 points to 2,075.37.

U.S. employers added 321,000 jobs in November, the biggest burst of hiring in nearly three years. The U.S. Labor Department also said Friday that 44,000 more jobs were added in September and October combined than the government had previously estimated.

Meanwhile, Canada’s unemployment rate nudged up in November to 6.6 per cent as 10,700 jobs were lost last month. However, Statistics Canada said the decline was within its survey’s margin of error and noted that it followed two months of strong employment growth.

In other corporate news, the merger between Tim Hortons Inc. (TSX:THI) and Burger King Worldwide Inc. was approved late Thursday by the federal government, with a list of stipulations that include a five-year promise on jobs for employees at its restaurant locations and a continuation of its current community support levels. Tim Hortons shares gained 1.7 per cent, or $1.58, to $96.97.

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