Falling gold stocks leave TSX flat, Dow industrials at record high for 3rd day

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed Thursday with little change amid rising commodities prices along with strong economic data and another day of record performance on U.S. markets.

The S&P/TSX composite index had been in positive territory throughout the morning but moved into the red as losses in the gold sector picked up. The index closed 5.45 points lower to 12,826.52 while the TSX Venture Exchange was ahead 6.48 points to 1,116.23.

The Canadian dollar rose 0.19 of a cent to 97.14 cents US as Statistics Canada said the trade deficit with the world narrowed to $237 million in January from $332 million in December.

Exports rose 2.1 per cent to $39.1 billion while imports decreased 1.9 per cent to $39.3 billion.

Meanwhile, the U.S. trade deficit widened in January, reflecting a big jump in oil imports and a drop in exports.

The U.S. Commerce Department says the deficit rose to US$44.4 billion, an increase of 16.5 per cent from December. U.S. exports dropped 1.2 per cent to $184.5 billion while imports rose 1.8 per cent to $228.9 billion as oil imports surged 12.3 per cent.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrials moved further into record territory for a third straight day. The index rose 33.25 points to 14,329.49.

The Nasdaq composite index gained 9.72 points to 3,232.09 while the S&P 500 index gained 2.8 points to 1,544.26.

The Dow has now recovered all its losses that arose from the 2008 financial meltdown. And while hitting and surpassing old records is important, analysts point out it doesn’t mean that markets are on a one-way trip upward.

“Institutional investors tend to follow the S&P 500 more closely in any event in the U.S.,” observed Robert Gorman, chief portfolio strategist at TD Waterhouse.

That’s usually because it is much more broadbased where the Dow is made up of the 30 top industrial companies.

“But the Dow is still the index that makes the headlines and most people relate to so the fact that it has recouped all the lost ground is a significant story in a general way and one that a lot of people react to. This is something that on Main Street does resonate, the Dow has recouped its lost ground. Now what lies ahead?”

Stocks have advanced this week after traders were reassured that China’s leadership will do what it takes to deliver economic growth of 7.5 per cent this year, and data showing better than expected expansion in the U.S. service sector and rising house prices.

Traders also looked to Friday’s release of the U.S. non-farm payrolls report. Expectations for job creation ratcheted up after payroll firm ADP said Wednesday that the private sector created 198,000 jobs last month.

Optimism rose further Thursday after the Labour Department said that the number of Americans seeking unemployment aid fell by 7,000 last week, driving the four-week average to the lowest point in five years.

Canadian job creation figures also come out Friday. Economists looked for the economy to have created around 7,500 jobs during February.

There was some negative news from the American retailing sector. The International Council of Shopping Centers says retailers are reporting modest sales gains for February. Overall, 15 retailers reported on Thursday that revenue at stores open at least a year — a key indicator of retail health — rose an average of 1.7 per cent, a sharp slowdown from the 4.5 per cent pace in January when shoppers splurged on holiday clearances.

The gold sector was the major weight on the TSX, down 1.44 per cent while April bullion was up 20 cents to US$1,575.10 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) faded 76 cents to C$33.68.

The telecom sector fell 0.99 per cent as the federal government announced that its long-awaited wireless spectrum auction for the telecom industry will begin on Nov. 19. The auction aims to have at least four wireless-service providers in every region of the country, in an effort to increase competition and push down consumer prices. Telus Corp. (TSX:T) shed $1.71 to $69.70.

The base metals sector led advancers, up 1.55 per cent while May copper rose three cents to US$3.52 a pound. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) advanced 54 cents to C$19.23.

The energy sector also climbed 1.45 per cent with the April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange up $1.13 to US$91.56 a barrel. Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) improved by 40 cents to C$32.40.

Shares in Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) were ahead 94 cents to $32.10 as the Calgary-based oil and gas producer posted 33 cents per share of adjusted earnings in the fourth quarter, six cents below estimates of 39 cents per share.

Net income was $352.8 million or 32 cents per diluted share, down from $832 million or 76 cents per share in the fourth quarter of 2011.

Canadian Natural’s revenue was higher than expected at $3.7 billion but half a billion lower than in the fourth quarter of 2011.

It is, however, raising its quarterly dividend for the 13th year in a row.

The consumer staples sector also provided lift with convenience store chain Alimentation Couche Tard (TSX:ATD.B) ahead 83 cents to $55.17.

In other corporate developments, Facebook shares gained $1.13 or four per cent to US$19.61 after the social networking site announced a redesign of its News Feed. The overhaul offers new controls that allow people to create streams of photos and other material in organized sections.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version gave an incorrect figure for Canadian Natural’s Q4 2011 net income