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Dump trucks move wast rock around the Highland Valley Copper Mine March 18, 2009. (JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)
Dump trucks move wast rock around the Highland Valley Copper Mine March 18, 2009. (JOHN LEHMANN/GLOBE AND MAIL)

At midday: Commodity prices lift TSX Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was higher as commodity prices rose amid stronger than expected trade figures from China.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 55.07 points to 13,936.06.

The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.23 of a cent to 91 cents (U.S).

U.S. indexes were mainly higher following substantial gains Tuesday after Congress voted Tuesday night to extend the U.S. debt ceiling without any spending conditions. The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 17.51 points to 15,977.26, the Nasdaq gained 11.33 points to 4,202.38 while the S&P 500 was 1.59 points higher to 1,821.34.

Markets were also relieved after the new head of the U.S. Federal Reserve vowed a continuation of low interest rates. Janet Yellen said that while she thinks the U.S. economy is strong enough to weather a cutback in a key stimulus program, rates should stay low to support a still lacklustre economy.

Meanwhile, data showed that China’s trade growth accelerated in January, as imports rose 10 per cent to $107.2-billion, up from January’s 8.3 per cent growth. Exports rose 10.6 per cent to $126.7-billion, more than double the previous month’s 4.3 per cent expansion and the trade surplus widened to $31.9-billion. All three numbers beat expectations.

“Without a doubt, I think it’s a huge positive,” said John Stephenson, portfolio manager at First Asset Funds.

“We think in general the market looks good. You have the best earnings season south of the border in two years, you have U.S. economic growth likely to be three per cent plus, that translates into over 7.5 per cent earnings growth, maybe more. And then you have share buybacks.”

There was major acquisition activity as Mexico’s Grupo Bimbo plans to buy all the shares of Canada Bread Co. Ltd. in a deal worth $1.83-billion or $72 a share. Maple Leaf currently holds 90 per cent of Canada Bread’s outstanding shares. Maple Leaf shares rose 11 cents to $15.95 while Canada Bread ran up $4.84 to $72.10.

On the earnings front, Air Canada posted quarterly earnings ex-items of $3-million or one cent a share, missing expectations of 12 cents. The carrier also warned that this year’s first quarter will continue to feel the impact of weather-related costs and the effect of the lower loonie and its shares plunged 15.2 per cent to $6.63.

Rogers Communications Inc. fell $2.20 to $43.49 as the media and telcom company posted adjusted earnings of $347-million or 69 cents a share, missing estimates by six cents. Revenue of $3.24-billion also missed estimates of $3.3-billion while the company also upped its quarterly dividend five per cent.

The Chinese data helped March crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange up $1.09 to $101.03 (U.S) a barrel and the energy sector led advancers, up 1.1 per cent.

Financials were also strong, up 0.6 per cent ahead of earnings Thursday by insurers Manulife and Sun Life .

The base metals group climbed 0.55 per cent while March copper gained four cents to $3.26 (U.S) a pound.

The gold sector was the major decliner, down 1.45 per cent while April gold was ahead $3.80 to $1,293.60 (U.S) an ounce.

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