North American stock markets opened higher amid healthy gains in commodities, thanks in part to some surprisingly strong trade figures out of China overnight. Nokia shares were surging as the company pre-announced better-than-expected fourth-quarter results while Tiffany shares were sinking on disappointing holiday sales.
In early trading, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 36 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 12,558; the S&P 500 was up 6 points, or 0.4 per cent, at 1,467; and the Dow Jones industrial average was up 36 points, or 0.2 per cent, at 13,427.
The February crude oil futures contract in New York was up 1.1 per cent at $94.13 (U.S.) per barrel and March copper was up 0.8 per cent at $3.70 per pound. Even gold was managing to post some decent gains, up 0.8 per cent at $1.669 an ounce.
China is the world's biggest consumer of industrial metals and energy and the strong trade figures this morning drew considerable attention. Exports rose 14.1 per cent and imports grew 6 per cent, picking up considerable pace from November when exports rose a modest 2.9 per cent and imports were flat. A broad measure of Chinese credit growth also rose sharply.
While the figures certainly underlined the ongoing theme of late that China's economic growth is starting to pick up steam again, economists caution not to read too much into just one month's worth of trade statistics. A number of one-time factors could be behind the surprise gains, including iPhone 5 production and rushed shipments after the end of a port strike in California. The World Bank predicts 2013 economic growth of 7.5 per cent in China, which is pretty similar to 2012. Private economists' forecasts for next year range from 6 per cent to well over 8 per cent.
Europe is also in focus today. The Bank of England and the European Central Bank, predictably, held steady on interest rates this morning.
ECB President Mario Draghi held his monthly news conference, offering a cautiously optimistic view for 2013. Mr. Draghi said that some indicators “have broadly stabilized” although at low levels and financial markets have steadied. He said “economic activity should gradually recover” later this year.
The credit market is signalling optimism, too. Spain's benchmark government bond yields fell below 5 per cent to a 10-month low after seeing strong demand at an auction today. Italy also saw strong demand for its bonds during an auction this morning.
Here's a look at some of the stocks moving on early news this morning:
Nokia shares are up 17 per cent in early trading after the smartphone maker pre-released better-than-expected fourth-quarter figures and said its Lumia sales jumped to 4.4 million units during the three-month period.
Tiffany & Co said its net worldwide sales during the holiday season had risen 4 per cent and that earnings would come in at the low end of its previous guidance of $3.20 to $3.40 (U.S.) per share. Shares are down 6 per cent.
Ford Motor Co. has doubled its quarterly dividend to 10 cents a share, for a yield close to 3 per cent, citing its strong balance sheet and positive business performance. Shares are up 2 per cent.
Pharmacy chain Jean Coutu Group (PJC) Inc. posted net profit of 26 cents per share in its latest quarter, up 10 per cent from 23 cents in the year-earlier period. Shares are up 2 per cent.
Astral Media Inc. posted a $59.6-million profit in the first quarter, compared to $55.8-million in the same quarter last year. Revenue was flat, gaining 1 per cent to $271-million. It provided little information pertaining to BCE's latest efforts to acquire the company. Shares are up 0.30 per cent.