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BCE president George Cope, left, and Astral Media CEO Ian Greenberg announced the takeover of Astral by Bell in March. (PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
BCE president George Cope, left, and Astral Media CEO Ian Greenberg announced the takeover of Astral by Bell in March. (PAUL CHIASSON/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

At the open: TSX up slightly on BCE dividend boost Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was slightly higher in early trading as a dividend boost from BCE Inc. overshadowed caution ahead of a slate of upcoming Chinese economic data.

The S&P/TSX composite index was up 6.52 points to 11,870.02, while the TSX Venture Exchange slipped 2.35 points to 1,188.21.

The Canadian dollar rose to 100.36 cents (U.S.), up 0.11 of a cent.

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Leading the way on the TSX were telecom stocks, up one per cent, after BCE Inc. said it would increase both its dividend and 2012 earnings forecast.

The telecom and media company says the dividend will rise to $2.27 per share annually, or 56.75 cents per share quarterly, beginning with the October payout. Adjusted earnings have been increased by two cents per share, to a range of between $3.15 and $3.20 per share. BCE shares gained $1.20 to $44.45.

The Montreal-based company said its profit rose to $773-million, or $1 per share, compared with $590-million or 76 cents a share a year ago.

TSX information technology stocks were up 1.8 per cent, with Research In Motion shares rising 10.5 per cent, or 77 cents, to $8.09.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average decreased 43.22 points to 13,125.38 and the broader S&P was off 4.88 points to 1,396.47. Nasdaq fell 12.64 points at 3,003.22.

Investors could spend much of the day waiting for China to release inflation, factory output and retail sales data on Thursday. Analysts expect inflation to fall further, which would give authorities in Beijing room to shore up slowing growth by easing credit without fear of igniting a spike in consumer prices.

The pause from traders comes after a runup in stocks over the past couple of weeks, motivated in part by comments from the U.S. and European central banks. Crude oil prices have also started to climb back higher.

In commodities, the September crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange increased 50 cents to $94.17 (U.S.) a barrel.

September copper moved up nearly a cent to $3.431 (U.S.) a pound while December gold rose $6.40 cents to $1,619.20 (U.S.) an ounce.

In Canadian earnings, Air Canada Inc. reported a $96-million net loss in the three-month period, more than double the $46-million loss a year earlier. The loss was deeper than analysts had expected. Revenue was flat, rising a slight $71-million to $2.99-billion. Shares were down seven cents to $1.08.

Rona Inc. says its profit fell to $34.1-million in the second quarter, a penny below estimates and down from $37-million a year earlier. Revenue at Canada’s biggest home-improvement chain was in line with estimates, rising by 3.4 per cent from a year ago to $1.4-billion. Shares of the company increased 14 cents to $13.89.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX lost 0.6 per cent to 6,926 while France’s CAC-40 was 0.6 per cent lower at 3,432. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.4 per cent to 5,816 after the Bank of England cut its growth and inflation forecasts. That has confirmed many economists’ expectations that the Bank of England will provide more monetary stimulus later this year.

Many of Europe’s indexes have hit multi-month highs on hopes the European Central Bank will soon unveil a new anti-crisis strategy. Those hopes have helped ease the bond market pressure on Italy and Spain. The latter has seen its benchmark 10-year bond yield settle below the seven per cent threshold considered unsustainable in the long run.

Earlier in Asia, most markets ended higher. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose 0.9 per cent to 8,881.16. South Korea’s Kospi added 0.9 per cent to 1,903.23 as sentiment improved a day ahead of a Bank of Korea meeting where policy makers are expected to lower interest rates to stimulate the economy. And China’s main index in Shanghai rose 0.2 per cent at 2,160.99.

But Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index fell marginally to 20,065.52 as investors became cautious ahead of the release of the key economic data in China.

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