Industrials, financials help TSX rise, Fed stimulus concerns weigh on sentiment

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed flat on Friday to cap off a lacklustre week as concerns about the future of the U.S. Federal Reserve’s monetary stimulus helped weigh on the TSX.

The S&P/TSX composite index edged up 3.01 points to 13,478.34, led by rising industrial and financial stocks.

The Canadian dollar was off the worst levels of the day amid data showing a better than expected read on retail sales and very low pressure on prices.

But the loonie still finished down 0.03 of a cent to 95.02 cents US as Statistics Canada reported that October retail sales rose one per cent, much higher than the 0.3 per cent gain that economists had expected. But excluding autos, sales were flat against an expected 0.2 per cent rise.

On the inflation front, the agency reported that consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 0.7 per cent in October, down from 1.1 per cent in September and lower than the 0.9 per cent rate that had been expected.

U.S. indexes were up, with both the Dow industrials and the S&P 500 finishing at fresh record highs.

The Dow was ahead 54.78 points to 16,064.77 and the S&P 500 climbed 8.91 points to 1,804.76. The Nasdaq was 22.49 points higher at 3,991.65.

The small advance came a day after the Dow industrials closed above 16,000 for the first time amid data showing that jobless insurance applications are back almost to where they were before the Great Recession.

At the same time, there was another round of concern about stimulus after minutes from the Fed’s latest meeting suggested the U.S. central bank will start reducing its US$85 billion of monthly bond purchases in coming months. The content of the minutes may have come as a surprise to markets after Janet Yellen, who is slated to become the next Fed chairman, had expressed strong support for low interest rate and bond buying policies during her confirmation hearing last week.

This third round of quantitative easing has kept interest rates low to support a slow but steady economic recovery in the U.S. but also propelled money into higher-yielding stocks.

The Dow industrials are up 22 per cent year to date. If it holds those gains through December, the Dow will have had its best year since 2003.

And notwithstanding concerns about Fed tapering, many analysts think the American markets still have room to grow.

“Fundamentals are still strong across the board (and) in the U.S., we’re seeing earnings growth still decent,” said Kevin Headland, director, portfolio advisory group, Manulife Asset Management.

The TSX is only up a bit over eight per cent on the year.

The TSX ended the week flat as slides in miners, particularly gold stocks, cancelled out rising financial and energy stocks.

The Dow was up 0.64 per cent amid data showing that jobless insurance applications are back almost to where they were before the Great Recession.

The industrials sector led advancers Friday, up 0.5 per cent and Canadian National Railways (TSX:CNR) gained $1.10 to C$118.87.

Financials were also positive with Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC) ahead 26 cents to $20.37 after earlier hitting a new 52-week high of $20.50.

The gold sector had been up as much as two per cent in the morning but ended up down about one per cent to lead decliners. The sector is by far the worst TSX performer, down over seven per cent this week and about 47 per cent year to date as low inflation and the rising probability of Fed tapering have lessened gold’s allure as a hedge.

“There are no new fundamentals supporting a dominant move higher in gold,” Headland said, adding that “inflation numbers are coming out fairly low, fairly benign.”

“There is even dreaded talk of potential deflation (but) I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

December bullion climbed 50 cents to US$1,244.10 Friday, but was still down 3.4 per cent for the week, and Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX) faded 58 cents to C$17.21.

The base metals component fell 0.8 per cent while December copper rose two cents to US$3.21 a pound. Turquoise Hill Resources (TSX:TRQ) dropped 20 cents to C$4.47.

The energy component was down 0.2 per cent with January crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange off 60 cents at US$94.84 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) was 44 cents lower at C$34.82.

On the corporate front, the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld Ontario rules banning big pharmacies from selling their own private-label generic drugs, saying the province’s 2010 decision to ban the practice was consistent with its efforts to ensure transparent drug pricing.

Shoppers Drug Mart (TSX:SC) and Rexall challenged the province because they wanted to be able to sell their own lower-priced generic versions of big-name drugs. Shoppers shares slipped 19 cents to $58.92.

In the U.S., Intel fell $1.36, or 5.39 per cent, to US$23.87, after the company said Thursday that it expected revenues to be flat next year. Analysts had expected a small increase.