TSX closes sharply higher, traders take weak Chinese data in stride

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed with a solid gain Monday as investors largely brushed aside data that indicated China’s economic growth rate has slowed slightly.

The S&P/TSX composite index came within a whisker of closing above 14,000 — a level not seen since early April, 2011 — gaining 102.08 points to 13,990.29 in a strong advance across all sectors.

The Canadian dollar rose 0.21 of a cent to 91.32 cents U.S. two days before the Bank of Canada makes its next announcement on interest rates.

It was a relatively quiet session with U.S. markets closed for the Martin Luther King holiday.

“We need U.S. economic data to really confirm the trend and obviously we need to see where liquidity is deepest, meaning the U.S., for direction of markets,” said Paul Taylor, chief investment officer, Fundamental Canadian Equities, BMO Global Asset Management.

“The fact that the Canadian market is up and that we’re knocking on 14,000 means little when the U.S. is closed.”

Figures for the latest quarter show Chinese economy grew at an annual pace of 7.7 per cent compared with a year earlier, down from the previous quarter’s 7.8 per cent. Growth for the full year was 7.7 per cent, tying 2012 for the weakest annual performance since 1999.

But the news didn’t come as a huge surprise to markets, which have got used to the fact that double-digit Chinese growth is something that won’t be happening again any time soon.

“It was widely expected,” said BMO Capital Markets senior economist Jennifer Lee.

“The results weren’t too bad and continue to illustrate an economy that is inching towards more consumption-led, not investment/export-led, growth.”

The battered gold sector continued to make gains, up about 1.7 per cent as February bullion rose $2.20 to US$1,254.10 an ounce in late afternoon electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The sector was the biggest loser in 2013 on the TSX.

“The fundamentals for sustained uptrend in the commodity are not there but the liquidity and sentiment are starting to swing back in its favour — it just got so oversold,” Taylor said.

“But it’s just a short-term phenomena. I don’t believe that it’s the start of anything in the way of a sustainable trend.”

Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX) gained 95 cents to C$21.56 while Goldcorp (TSX:G) ran ahead 42 cents to $25.85.

Osisko Mining Corp. (TSX:OSK) said Monday that shareholders should give its board time to find an alternative to Goldcorp’s hostile $2.6-billion takeover offer, which it called inadequate. Osisko shares have traded well above the $5.95 implied value of the Goldcorp offer since the stock-and-cash proposal was first announced last week. Osisko shares were unchanged from Friday’s close at $6.47.

The TSX tech sector was up 1.4 per cent with BlackBerry (TSX:BB) ahead 82 cents or 8.22 per cent to $10.80, on top of a six per cent advance Friday after Citron Research raised its price target to US$15. Also, the U.S. Department of Defense says it will continue to support the company’s smartphones.

Elsewhere, Open Text (TSX:OTC) gained 85 cents to $99.99 ahead of its earnings report on Thursday.

The base metals sector was ahead 1.35 per cent as March copper was unchanged at US$3.34 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) added 44 cents to C$29.10.

Financials were also supportive, up 0.85 per cent as Royal Bank (TSX:RY) climbed $1 to $72.86.

The energy sector was ahead 0.5 per cent although oil prices were lower. The February crude oil contract fell 65 cents to US$93.72 a barrel. Baytex Energy (TSX:BTE) rose 56 cents to C$41.88.

Elsewhere on the corporate front, transportation giant Bombardier (TSX:BBD.B) was unchanged at $4.11 as it said Monday it delivered 238 aircraft last year, missing its own forecast on lower than expected business jet shipments, and that it received 19 per cent fewer orders in 2013. It cited a sluggish global economic recovery as part of the reason for lower deliveries.

WestJet Airlines Ltd. said it is bringing its new Encore regional service to Ontario. The airline (TSX:WJA) says it will start with routes between Toronto and Thunder Bay, Ont., and between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg. Its shares edged up four cents to $27.12.

Meanwhile, investors will continue to focus on another heavy slate of U.S. fourth-quarter earnings this week.

Traders will take in results from such heavyweights as energy services firm Halliburton, drug company Johnson & Johnson, tech company Texas Instruments, telco Verizon, corporate services firm Xerox, consumer products company Kimberly-Clark and McDonald’s.