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At noon: Markets flat as overseas economic data disappoint Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was modestly higher at midday Wednesday as commodity prices shook off early losses amid weak European and Chinese economic data.

Gains in tech and telecom stocks helped take the S&P/TSX composite index up 37.92 points to 12,661.28 and the TSX Venture Exchange slipped 0.14 of a point to 1,678.49.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.32 of a cent to 100.02 cents US.

U.S. markets were weak with the Dow Jones industrials down 4.62 points to 12,961.07 a day after the blue chip barometer briefly cracked the 13,000-mark for the first time since May, 2008.

The Nasdaq composite index dropped 4.55 points to 2,944.02 amid a disappointing earnings report from computer maker Dell and the S&P 500 index was 1.06 points lower to 1,361.15.

Buying enthusiasm was tepid as data indicated that the European Union area will likely not be able to avoid slipping into recession.

The euro zone composite purchasing managers index fell to 49.7 during February. The manufacturing PMI rose less than expected to 49, still in contraction territory. The services PMI fell a point to 49.4, against economists expectations for a small increase.

There was also another fairly weak Chinese manufacturing survey.

The preliminary reading of HSBC's China manufacturing index rose from 48.8 in January to 49.7 in February. But the number was still below the 50-level that signifies expansion, raising hopes that China could embark on more stimulus measures to encourage growth.

“The world economy is still somewhat fragile, even though we are seeing better economic numbers,” observed Chris Kuflik, investment adviser at ScotiaMcLeod in Montreal.

On the TSX, a strong earnings report from Rogers Communications Inc. (TSX:RCI.B) helped send the telecom sector up 0.6 per cent. Its shares advanced 45 cents to $38.22 after it said it is increasing its quarterly dividend by 11 per cent to 39.5 cents a share. Net income grew eight per cent to $327 million, or 61 cents per diluted share, from $302 million, or 50 cents per share. Operating revenue grew to $3.18 billion from $3.14 billion.

Meantime, rival telecom Telus Corp. (TSX:T) said Tuesday it would raise its dividend to 61 cents a share, up from 58 cents. Telus also said it wants to end its dual-class share structure by converting its non-voting shares into voting shares on a one-for-one basis. Telus shares edged up eight cents to $55.98.

In the U.S., computer maker Dell Inc. fell shy of Wall Street's profit estimates. Dell reported an adjusted fourth-quarter profit of 51 cents a share on revenue of US$16.03 billion, compared with 53 cents a share on revenue of $15.69 billion in the year-ago period. Its stock was down about six per cent in New York.

The tech sector provided major TSX support despite the Dell disappointment as Celestica Inc. (TSX:CLS) rose 34 cents to $9.57 while CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) improved by 37 cents to $21.31.

The April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 11 cents to US$106.36 a barrel.

Oil has jumped from US$96 earlier this month amid escalating tension between Western powers and Iran.

“The price of oil right now is mainly due to geopolitical events,” added Kuflik. He and other analysts point to the sharp rise in oil prices as something which could cause problems for the economic recovery.

“When you start to get to US$120 a barrel, it acts as a tax on consumers.”

The TSX energy sector was ahead 0.5 per cent as Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) improved by 57 cents to $35.31.

Talisman Energy Inc. (TSX:TLM) shares added three cents to $13.88 as it embarked on a partnership with Mitsubishi Corp. to develop natural gas properties in Papua New Guinea.

The base metals sector was ahead 0.4 per cent with April copper shedding earlier losses and was unchanged at US$3.83 a pound after surging 13 cents on Tuesday. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) was ahead 49 cents to $39.93 and Ivanhoe Mines (TSX:IVN) climbed 38 cents to $17.03.

The gold sector was ahead 0.42 per cent with bullion down $1.90 to US$1,756.60 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) climbed 36 cents to $48.52.

The financials sector was the weakest component with Sun Life Financial (TSX:SLF) down 26 cents to $21.21.

Also overhanging markets was yet another downgrade for Greece.

The greenback rose against other currencies after Fitch ratings agency downgraded Greece further into junk status, from ‘CCC' to ‘C' following the announcement of the details of the country's debt swap deal with private creditors.

The move came after eurozone countries signed off on a 130 billion euro bailout to head off a disorderly default by Greece.

In other earnings news, Sears Canada Inc. (TSX:SCC) said Wednesday it earned $38.7 million or 36 cents per share in its latest quarter, which includes the key Christmas retail period. That compared with net profits of $82.7 million or 77 cents per share a year earlier. Its shares gained seven cents to $12.02.

European bourses were in the red with London's FTSE 100 index down 0.14 per cent, Frankfurt's DAX declined 0.79 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 was off 0.33 per cent.

Earlier in Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index rose 0.9 per cent on hopes for more government stimulus and the smaller Shenzhen Composite Index gained 2.2 per cent.

The Nikkei 225 index in Tokyo added one per cent to close at its highest finish in more than six months, as a weakening yen boosted the prospects of Japan's critical export sector. Meanwhile, Hong Kong's Hang Seng rose 0.3 per cent.

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