TSX little changed, solid Alcoa earnings fail to spark mining companies

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market yielded a small gain Wednesday as resource stocks largely failed to benefit from a positive earnings report and outlook from aluminum producer Alcoa Inc.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 17.43 points to 12,522.24 while the TSX Venture Exchange was up 3.74 points at 1,229.11.

The Canadian dollar was off 0.1 of a cent at 101.25 cents U.S. amid data showing slightly fewer housing starts last month.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reported that December housing starts came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 197,976, down slightly from 201,376 in November but still higher than the 195,000 that economists had expected.

U.S. stock markets were positive after Alcoa reported better than expected revenue and predicted a seven per cent increase in demand this year, slightly better than the six per cent increase in 2012.

Alcoa is viewed as a bellwether for the overall economy since its products are used in everything from cars to aircraft to appliances. Its shares erased early gains, dipping two cents to US$9.08 in New York.

The Dow Jones industrials gained 61.66 points to 13,390.51, the Nasdaq rose 14 points to 3,105.81 and the S&P 500 index added 3.87 points to 1,461.02.

The TSX gold sector was down about 0.65 per cent as February bullion lost $6.70 to US$1,655.50 an ounce. Kinross Gold (TSX:K) faded 18 cents to C$9.21 and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) declined 39 cents to $35.42.

Gold and the companies that mine it have suffered in recent days because of uncertainty about whether the U.S. Federal Reserve might end its stimulus program of bond buying in the second half of 2013. Minutes from the Fed’s latest policy meeting showed a split over how long to continue the purchases amid concerns that they could destabilize the economy.

The bond buying, known as quantitative easing, has supported bullion prices because of worries the program would drive inflation higher.

“We’re much more neutral on gold today,” said Gareth Watson, vice-president, investment management and research at Richardson GMP Ltd.

He noted that along with a lessening of inflation worries, the overall fear factor on markets isn’t nearly what it was during the 2008 financial crisis and last year as the eurozone debt crisis worsened.

“The (Fed) minutes last week just gave people an excuse to actually execute on that trade. (When) they’re saying, look, we’re actually thinking of rolling back some of those programs sooner than you might think, then all of a sudden that was just the opportunity to step in and hit the sell button.”

The metals and mining sector was down 0.4 per cent while March copper on the New York Mercantile Exchange gave up early advances to close unchanged at US$3.67 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) gained 66 cents to C$36.86.

First Quantum Minerals Ltd. (TSX:FM) sent its $5.1-billion takeover offer for Inmet Mining Corp. (TSX:IMN) directly to the copper miner’s shareholders. The company increased its offer last month to $72 per Inmet share, half in cash, half in stock.

First Quantum shares dipped 95 cents to $20.59, while Inmet stock was unchanged at $72.25.

HudBay Minerals Inc. (TSX:HBM) fell 50 cents to $10.90 as it said it expected to spend about $163 million this year on the Lalor mining project near Snow Lake, Man. Lalor is forecast to cost $704 million to complete. HudBay also plans to spend $901 million in 2013 on the Constancia mine in Peru. The two projects comprise the bulk of HudBay’s 2013 capital investment budget of $1.24 billion.

The telecom sector was also a weight on the TSX with BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) down 48 cents to US$42.10.

The energy component was slightly higher while oil shed early gains after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a 1.3-million-barrel climb in crude supplies for last week, short of the the 1.5-million-barrel gain that economists expected. But gasoline inventories jumped 7.4 million barrels, much higher than the 2.6 million that had been forecast.

February crude drifted five cents lower to US$93.10 a barrel. Pacific Rubiales Energy (TSX:PRE) ran ahead $1.16 to C$23.15 while Husky Energy (TSX:HSE) advanced 20 cents to $29.90.

Industrials led TSX advancers, up per cent with Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) ahead 98 cents to $108.35 while Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) climbed four cents to $3.90.

In Canadian earnings news, shares of Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B) improved by 17 cents to $22.71 as the company increased its dividend as it reported better than expected quarterly results. Shaw earned $235 million or 50 cents per share while revenue came in at $1.32 billion.

Traders also took in some major corporate dealmaking.

Progress Energy awarded a $5-billion contract to TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) that will see the pipeline company design, build, own and operate the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project. The pipeline will carry gas from northeastern British Columbia to a proposed export facility near Prince Rupert.

Progress, recently acquired by Malaysia’s state-owned energy company, plans to export liquefied natural gas from the port to markets in energy-hungry Asian markets. TransCanada shares climbed $1.14 to $48.39.

Elsewhere on the corporate front, investors rallied behind Boeing as the company said it has “extreme confidence” in its 787 Dreamliner even as federal investigators try to determine the cause of a fire that has prompted new worries about the plane.

The fire happened Monday in one of the plane’s lithium ion batteries. Boeing shares gained 3.55 per cent to US$76.76, after dropping 4.6 per cent the two previous days.