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(Getty Images/iStockphoto)
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At the open: Celtic shares soar 45% on takeover bid Add to ...

Major acquisition activity in the Canadian oilpatch helped push the Toronto stock market slightly higher Wednesday.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 16.92 points to 12,424.62 amid rising oil prices and mixed earnings reports while traders digested a 178-point surge Tuesday. The TSX Venture Exchange rose 2.76 points to 1,302.53.

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The energy sector led advancers after Celtic Exploration Ltd. (TSX:CLT) received a friendly takeover offer valued at $3.1-billion from Canadian affiliates of U.S. energy giant Exxon Mobil Corp. (NYSE:XOM). The Calgary-based company is mainly focused on natural gas areas in British Columbia and Alberta.

Celtic’s shareholders are being offered $24.50 per share and a half-share of a new company, code-named Spinco. Celtic shares surged 45.47 per cent to $26.36.

And Penn West Petroleum Ltd. (TSX:PWT) has agreed in principle to sell $1.3-billion worth of its non-core properties, representing the equivalent of 12,000 barrels per day of production. Details weren’t disclosed and its shares gained 32 cents to $13.98.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.34 of a cent to 101.68 cents US.

The loonie fell 0.7 of a cent Tuesday in the wake of a speech by Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney, which traders interpreted as containing a more dovish tone toward the possibility of hiking rates.

The bank makes its next anno uncement on interest rates next Tuesday.

U.S. markets were mixed in the wake of earnings disappointments from IBM and Intel with the Dow Jones industrials down 31.39 points to 13,520.39, the Nasdaq composite index dipped 3.89 points to 3,097.28 and the S&P 500 added 0.98 of a point to 1,455.9.

The market failed to find much lift from data that provided a further indication that the housing sector recovery is strengthening.

The Commerce Department said Wednesday that builders broke ground on homes at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 872,000 in September, an increase of 15 per cent from the August level.

Applications for building permits, a good sign of future construction, jumped nearly 12 per cent to an annual rate of 894,000, also the highest since July 2008.

Potash Corp. (TSX:POT) was an early TSX decliner as it warned that its profit this year will fall short of expectations following delays in reaching contracts with fertilizer buyers in China and India. It says that earnings for the full 2012 financial year will fall below even the lowest previous estimate of $2.80 to $3.20 per share. Its shares fell 80 cents to $40.30.

In the U.S., Intel beat expectations for the third quarter, handing in third-quarter net income of $2.97-billion, or 58 cents per share after the close Tuesday, down from $3.47-billion, or 65 cents per share, a year ago. Excluding one time items, earnings came in at 60 cents, beating estimates of 50 cents.

But it added that the usual bounce in sales due to the holiday season is likely to be cut in half this year as consumers shift from PCs to tablets, which don’t use Intel processors and its shares slid 85 cents to $21.49.

IBM says its third-quarter earnings remained unchanged from a year ago despite an unexpected charge and a steeper drop in revenue than analysts anticipated. IBM Corp. earned $3.8-billion, or $3.33 per share, in the July-September period. The company delivered the same net income a year ago, but its per-share earnings were 14 cents lower last year because the company had more outstanding stock then. IBM shares dropped $9.52 or 4.5 per cent to $201.48.

Bank of America said Wednesday that it narrowly turned a profit of US$340-million in the latest quarter, which works out to a fraction of a penny per share. Financial analysts expected an 11-cent loss. Its shares shed early losses and inched up three cents to US$9.49.

There was also growing speculation that Spain will soon ask for help to keep its borrowing costs down after Moody’s rating agency did not cut its credit grade on Spain to junk status, as had been widely feared in recent weeks. Instead, Moody’s said after the European market close on Tuesday that it was keeping its Baa3 rating on Spain, the lowest investment grade.

Investors think it’s only a matter of time before the country will make a request for help to Europe’s bailout fund, a necessary condition for the European Central Bank to start buying its bonds in the markets.

The Spanish government said Wednesday it will decide within the next few weeks whether to ask for outside financial help.

Oil prices ticked higher with the November crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange ahead 63 cents to US$92.72 a barrel. Other energy sector gainers included Advantage Oil & Gas (TSX:AAV), up 21 cents to $4.03 while Paramount Resources (TSX:POU) improved by $2.05 to $33.64.

The gold sector led decliners, down 0.7 per cent while December gold added 30 cents to US$1,746.60 an ounce. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) faded 44 cents to $38.77.

The base metals sector declined 0.6 per cent while December copper was up a penny at US$3.71 a pound. Turquoise Hill Resources (TSX:TRQ) gave back 23 cents to $7.70.

European bourses headed higher with London’s FTSE 100 index up 0.56 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX gained 0.13 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 advanced 0.23 per cent.

Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock index closed 1.2 per cent higher while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng gained one per . In mainland China, the main index in Shanghai rose 0.3 per cent.

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