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(FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
(FRANK GUNN/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

At midday: TSX edges up amid rising gold stocks Add to ...

The Toronto stock market registered a modest gain Tuesday as investors continued to pick up beaten-down mining stocks and took in a pair of disappointing earnings reports from the retail sector.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 29.24 points to 12,238.11.

The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.22 of a cent at 94.92 cents US amid data showing that Canadian housing starts came in at an annualized rate of 199,586 units in June, a decrease from 204,616 in May. That was much better than the reading of 190,000 starts that analysts had been expecting.

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U.S. indexes also advanced as Alcoa Inc. (NYSE:AA), the first Dow component to report its second-quarter results, failed to benefit from quarterly earnings which beat revenue and profit expectations.

Alcoa said after the close of markets Monday that it earned seven cents a share, a penny better than forecast. Revenue came in at $5.85-billion, surpassing expectations of $5.8-billion.

However, its stock lost early momentum and slipped nine cents to US$7.83.

“Does anyone really care about an aluminum company?,” said Gareth Watson, vice-president at Richardson GMP Ltd.

“Right now the market’s attention is not on base metal stocks. So even if it has a good report, I think people are putting their money into interest sensitive and dividend yielding stocks and if they are getting cyclical, they’re doing it in other areas such as industrials.”

The Dow Jones industrials advanced 63.04 points to 15,287.73, the Nasdaq gained 16.07 points to 3,500.9 and the S&P 500 index was ahead 9.49 points at 1,649.95.

Meanwhile, executives at smartphone maker BlackBerry (TSX:BB) were in investor crosshairs as the company held its annual meeting.

BlackBerry reported a loss for its most recent quarter, when most analysts had expected it to turn a profit. Chief executive Thorsten Heins encouraged shareholders to remain patient as the smartphone maker pushes ahead with a plan to become profitable again. Heins says it’s going to take time, and just how long is unpredictable due to the volatile smartphone industry. Its stock was up 18 cents to $10.28, well off its 52-week high of $18.49.

Shares in Jean Coutu Group (TSX:PJC.A) fell 57 cents to $17.24 after the pharmacy retailer said it earned $108.6-million or 51 cents per share, down from $397.3-million or $1.81 per share a year ago, mainly due to much smaller gains from the sale of shares in U.S. pharmacy chain Rite Aid.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were $54.2-million or 26 cents per share, which matched expectations. Revenue was almost unchanged from a year ago at $681.6-million, which missed forecasts for more than $702-million.

Shares of Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (TSX:ATD.B) were also lower after it reported a large year-over-year increase in net earnings in the fourth quarter, but fell short of analyst estimates on adjusted profit.

Excluding one-time items, the convenience store and gas station operator said it earned 61 cents US per share, well below expectations of 77 cents per share. Its shares were down $3.80 or 6.2 per cent at $57.59.

Mining stocks benefited from bargain hunting for a second day.

Falling demand for resources has pushed the TSX base metals sector down 32 per cent so far this year. The gold sector has fared much worse, down 47 per cent year to date as the Federal Reserve signalled it could start tapering its economic stimulus program of bond purchases later in the year while inflationary pressures remain tame.

But Watson said “those factors aren’t there any more, so longer term as an investment there is no reason for people to get into the sector.

“And for those who want to do short term trading on the actual bullion and equities, go right ahead. But there is still a significant risk gold prices will move lower here.”

On Tuesday, the base metals sector was ahead 2.5 per cent even as copper prices fell further on demand concerns, with the September contract down seven cents to US$3.03 a pound. HudBay Minerals (TSX:HBM) climbed 13 cents to C$6.77 and Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) advanced 78 cents to $21.96.

The gold sector rose 1.65 per cent as gold prices rose slightly with the August bullion contract in New York ahead $12.40 to US$1,247.30. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) gained 29 cents to C$14.87 while Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) ran ahead 70 cents to $25.61.

The August crude oil contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange slipped nine cents to US$103.05 a barrel and the energy sector was flat. Canadian Oil Sands (TSX:COS) fell 84 cents to C$19.94.

In other economic news, the International Monetary Fund upgraded Canada’s growth expectations for this year to 1.7 per cent from 1.5 per cent, but warned that overall global conditions remain uneven, weak and perilous.

The IMF expects growth around the world will barely top three per cent this year, moderately lower than previously thought, and only start showing signs of life at 3.8 per cent in 2014.

Analysts suggested that the positive mood on markets indicated that some of the concerns over an imminent scaling back of the Federal Reserve’s monetary stimulus have eased. Rather than fearing the end of the stimulus, investors appear to be encouraged by the prevailing trend of improving U.S. economic news including the June job creation data that beat expectations.

European markets were higher as London’s FTSE 100 index rose 0.93 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX was up 1.25 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 climbed 0.59 per cent.

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