Traders look to health of U.S. economy, possibility of oil production cut

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market could be in for a seventh-straight week of gains as investors take comfort from moves by the Chinese government to boost its economy and look ahead to the latest readings on American and Canadian economic growth.

Oil prices could also find some direction from Thursday’s meeting of oil ministers of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

The latest reading on American gross domestic product comes out Tuesday. It is the second revision to third-quarter GDP and it’s generally expected that it will show growth softened a bit from a 3.5 per cent annualized rate to 3.3 per cent.

“Not a big revision,” said Andrew Pyle, senior wealth adviser, portfolio manager at ScotiaMcLeod in Peterborough, Ont., adding the important thing is that growth stays in the 3.5 per cent range.

Other recent GDP revisions have been to the upside but this time the deteriorating European economy, which is teetering on the edge of recession, helped drag down the U.S. economy.

There have also been concerns about slowing Chinese growth.

But optimism about both regions rose at the end of last week as the Peoples Bank of China, the country’s central bank, cut its interest rates and promised to inject extra credit into the financial system if needed. And the head of the European Central Bank said the ECB is willing to “step up the pressure” and broaden its efforts to stimulate the struggling eurozone economy.

“We actually see the move by the PBOC as a fairly major shift in strategy,” said Jean-Francois Dion, portfolio adviser, wealth management, RBC Dominion Securities.

“This is the first interest rate cut in over two years and the consensus . . . (until now) was that this was very unlikely to happen for an extended period of time.”

Statistics Canada releases its reading on September GDP and the third quarter on Friday. Economists expect that the agency will report that GDP rose by 0.4 per cent in the month after dipping 0.1 per cent in August, adding up to an annualized pace of 2.1 per cent.

The other major item for traders this week is the OPEC meeting. It comes at a time when oil prices have tumbled almost 30 per cent from mid-summer, when geopolitical concerns centred on the Mideast pushed the price of benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude to around US$105 a barrel.

Prices have since retreated amid a triple whammy of increased supply, lower demand and a rising U.S. dollar that has put pressure on all commodities priced in the American currency.

Traders will now wait to see if OPEC ministers try to support higher prices by cutting production.

“There’s a chance they will,” said Pyle. “There’s been no leakage from OPEC leading up to this meeting; (it’s) almost as if they want to make us wait right up until the day, then come out with something.”

“But rather than leak it now and spoil the fun, I think we’re going to see OPEC wait . . . and if we’re still trading below US$75 a barrel, I think there’s a good chance we’ll see some type of cut announced by OPEC. It doesn’t mean it will be massive, but I think we could see some trimming of OPEC output.”

Crude in New York ended last week at US$76.51 a barrel.

The Toronto market ended last week with a solid advance of 268 points or 1.8 per cent to end the week above the 15,000-mark for the first time since late September. The TSX continued to claw back the losses from the October sell-off and now is up 11 per cent year to date.

The TSX is still about 500 points or 3.5 per cent away from its 2014 highs of early September but analysts agree the comeback has been impressive and points to a successful corporate earnings season.

They also point to the effect of lower oil prices this fall since the biggest advancers this fall have been outside the resource sectors, instead favouring other sectors including the consumer staples group, which has rocketed almost 35 per cent year to date.

“And I’m wondering, given the gains we have built up in that sector, how much more we can expect if the general market actually turned down,” Pyle said. “Because that is a huge gain in a sector we don’t usually expect huge gains from.”

“I think consumer stocks are probably poised for some type of disappointment. You can’t maintain this type of outperformance relative to the index — we’re talking about a sector that is three times the growth of the TSX this year.”

The energy sector is showing some strength — it was up two per cent last week, thanks in part to natural gas prices which have moved higher as many parts of North America endure an early, freezing start to the winter season.

The last half of the trading week will be light. American markets are closed Thursday for U.S. Thanksgiving and reopen for a shortened session on Friday.