Gold stocks push Toronto stock market modestly higher amid Fed concerns

TORONTO – Gold and energy stocks helped push the Toronto stock market to a minor gain Tuesday.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 11.23 points to 13,324.01.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.28 of a cent at 94.31 cents US.

Continued uncertainty over what the U.S. Federal Reserve may do about its asset purchase program continued to keep the lid on enthusiasm.

New York’s Dow Jones industrials fell 52.4 points to 15,973.13, while the Nasdaq was 8.26 points lower at 4,060.49 and the S&P 500 slipped 5.75 points to 1,802.62.

Investors have been hoping that the Fed wouldn’t start tapering its US$85 billion of bond purchases until well into 2014. But a slate of strong economic data last week raised speculation that the U.S. central bank could act a lot faster, maybe as early as next week when the Fed makes its next announcement on interest rates.

“Because of the data being positive there is that chance,” said Sid Mokhtari, a market technician at CIBC World Markets.

“We think it probably won’t happen until next year, January or March. Don’t think they would do anything at this point of the year and they will probably wait for (incoming Fed chair Janet) Yellen to take over properly next year.”

The TSX gold sector ran ahead almost four per cent as February bullion gained $26.90 to US$1,261.10 an ounce despite the heightened Fed speculation. The central bank’s quantitative easing efforts had pushed gold as high as US$1,900 in 2011 as investors thought the massive bond buying program would drive inflation higher.

Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX) improved by 90 cents to C$17.91 while Goldcorp (TSX:G) climbed 68 cents to $23.08.

Tech stocks were generally higher with CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) up $1.15 to $82.65. BlackBerry stock (TSX:BB) was at its lowest level in more than a decade, but closed up 21 cents to $6.32 after going as low as $5.79.

The energy sector rose 0.3 per cent as the January crude contract moved ahead $1.17 to US$98.51 a barrel, its highest close since Oct. 28, amid optimism that data out Wednesday will show another sizable drawdown of American crude inventories. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) climbed 38 cents to C$34.96.

Base metal stocks had been higher earlier amid data showing that China’s factory production rose 10 per cent in November from a year earlier, slightly lower than analysts’ forecasts. But the component eventually turned lower and became the biggest TSX decliner, down 0.85 per cent even as March copper gained a penny to US$3.27 a pound. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) lost 59 cents to C$16.96.

Financials also weighed on the TSX as CIBC (TSX:CM) fell 56 cents to $90.28.

On the corporate front, food company Kellogg (NYSE:K) said it is closing its plant in London, Ont., by the end of 2014, resulting in the loss of more than 500 full-time jobs. The cuts are part of an overall restructuring Kellogg is undertaking to streamline operations by 2018. Kellogg shares slipped 85 cents to US$61.09.

General Motors named product development chief Mary Barra as the company’s next CEO. Barra currently is in charge of design, engineering and quality for all GM vehicles across the globe. She’s also in charge of purchasing and had previously headed the company’s human resources operations. GM shares were 50 cents lower at US$40.40.

There was also a shakeup at the top of clothing retailer Lululemon Athletica (Nasdaq:LULU) where founder and chairman Chip Wilson plans to resign in the wake of comments he made that seemingly blamed customers’ weight for the company’s recent problem with the sheerness of some of its pants.

At the same time, the board of Vancouver-based Lululemon has appointed Laurent Potdevin as CEO to succeed Christine Day, who has been chief executive since 2008. The company’s stock was down $1.22 to C$69.12.

Chorus Aviation (TSX:CHR.B), which flies most of Air Canada’s regional flights in North America, increased its dividend by 50 per cent in the wake of its arbitration win against Air Canada. The company will pay a quarterly dividend of 11.25 cents per share. Chorus had cut its quarterly payment to shareholders in half to 7.5 cents per share in May amid uncertainty about the arbitration process. Chorus shares jumped 26 cents or 6.97 per cent to $3.99.