North American markets chalked up some early gains, encouraged by the actions of Chinese leaders overnight to prop up their economy. Some notable merger and acquisition activity this morning in the corporate sector was also lending support.
In early trading, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 44 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 12,181; the S&P 500 was up 2 points, or 0.2 per cent, at 1,409; and the Dow Jones industrial average was up 50 points, or 0.3 per cent, at 13,002. The Nasdaq was flat to slightly negative, as Apple shares slid 3 per cent.
Several commodities, including crude oil and gold, erased earlier gains and have returned to negative territory. Gold fell back below the $1,700 level, last trading down 50 cents at $1,695.
Hong Kong and Shanghai stock indexes rose more than 2 per cent today as Chinese leaders eased restrictions on investing in banks and left markets with the impression that they'll take further supportive measures for the economy. China said it will actively promote urbanization to expand domestic demand and abolished a rule that limits insurers' investments in commercial banks.
Recent data out of China have indicated that its economy was already starting to pick up steam after growth waned earlier this year. The latest actions provide further confidence that the recovery will continue.
Tempering this enthusiasm is the ongoing "fiscal cliff" saga in the U.S. While an agreement of some kind seems likely, there have been signs that the uncertainty surrounding the negotiations to head off the tax increases and spending cuts on Jan. 1 is already starting to negatively impact the U.S. economy.
This morning provided mixed reads on the world's top economy. The U.S. ADP private payroll employment report rose 118,000 in November, down from October's 158,000 and less than economists' forecasts for 125,000. But factory orders for October rose 0.8 per cent, beating expectations for a decline of 0.1 per cent. The U.S. Institute for Supply Management's non-manufacturing index for November came in at 54.7, ahead of expectations for 53.5.
In Europe overnight, a gauge of business activity across thousands of companies showed some signs of improvement, rising in November to 46.5 from 45.7 in October. That's markedly higher than the preliminary reading of 45.8 reported 10 days ago, but still well below the 50 mark that divides growth and contraction.
Meanwhile, Britain this morning substantially cut its growth forecasts as the government hacks away at government spending. It expects GDP to fall by 0.1 per cent this year, against the last prediction, made in March, for 0.8-per-cent growth. In 2013, Britain now expects a mere 1.2-per-cent growth, down from 2 per cent.
Here's a look at stocks moving on news so far today:
A consortium led by KingSett Capital is making an all-cash $4.4-billion offer for Primaris Retail Real Estate Investment Trust. The $26 per unit offering price represents a premium of about 12.8 per cent to Tuesday's closing price. Shares in early trading are above the offer price, at $26.40, up 14 per cent.
Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. said it would acquire Plains Exploration & Production Co. and McMoRan Exploration Co. in two separate deals for $9-billion (U.S.) in cash and stock. Investors aren't pleased with Freeport's plans; shares are down 15 per cent in early trading. Plains Exploration is up 23 per cent; and McMoRan Exploration shares are up 75 per cent.
Citigroup Inc. shares are up 2.8 per cent after announcing a $1-billion (U.S.) charge and 11,000 job cuts.
Pandora Media Inc. shares are down 16.4 per cent after the Internet-radio firm's quarterly and yearly forecasts missed Street forecasts late Tuesday.
Canadian Pacific shares are up 3.8 per cent after the railway late Tuesday announced it will slash about one-quarter of its work force over four years as part of a sweeping restructuring plan.
Starbucks Corp. unveiled a new accelerated global growth plan that will double its international locations by 2015, with special emphasis on China. Shares are up just over 1 per cent at the open.