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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange April 9, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange April 9, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

At midday: TSX heads higher as 'skeptical' traders assess markets Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was slightly higher late morning Friday, capping a losing week as traders took profits amid a new round of concerns about the U.S. economy.

The S&P/TSX composite index climbed 12.35 points to 15,043.09.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.13 of a cent to 93.65 cents (U.S.).

New York indexes were mainly lower amid data showing improving consumer sentiment.

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The Dow Jones industrials shed 20.07 points to 16,826.06, the Nasdaq was up 5.3 points to 4,384.35, while the S&P 500 index slipped 0.52 of a point to 1,956.7.

The University of Michigan’s widely watched consumer sentiment index rose to 82.5, an improvement on the 81.9 reading that economists had forecast and up from a flash estimate of 81.2.

But the report failed to reassure investors rattled during this week by a much greater than expected U.S. gross domestic product contraction of 2.9 per cent, almost a full point higher than expected. Markets had initially shrugged off the data on expectations the American economy would jump ahead in the second quarter as the deterioration was largely blamed on severe winter weather. But economic concerns surfaced Thursday as data showed a worse than expected reading on consumer spending and consumption.

The report also sparked concerns about whether the economy can take the strain of higher interest rates, particularly after St. Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard said markets don’t realize how close the central bank is to reaching its targets of low unemployment and stable prices. That prompted speculation the Fed could hike as soon as the first quarter of 2015.

“I think it is a nervous market, and it’s a market where people are increasingly a little skeptical, a little worried and we are not away from geopolitical risk,” said John Stephenson, president and CEO at Stephenson and Co. Capital Management.

“People are willing to put some bets on, but not big bets and they`re not willing to whip it around so what you`re seeing is a reluctance to commit more money towards strategies at this point in the cycle.”

Traders are looking ahead to manufacturing and employment data next week for reassurance that the U.S. economy is indeed on track for a strong second quarter.

It is also hoped that the flood of corporate earnings reports covering the April-June period will provide reassurance that the economy is improving.

Commodity prices were mixed with September copper unchanged at $3.17 (U.S.) a pound and the base metals group was up one per cent.

The consumer staples sector climbed 0.7 per cent as the parent of grocer Sobeys, Empire Co. gained $2.81 or 4.15 per cent to $70.50. The stock had also edged higher Thursday after Empire said it was closing 50 underperforming Sobeys stores, while quarterly earnings beat expectations.

The gold sector edged up 0.05 per cent, while August bullion rose $2.80 to $1,319.80 an ounce.

The energy component was down 0.17 per cent as August crude fell 27 cents to $105.57 a barrel. Crude prices have declined this week in the wake of the weaker than expected U.S. consumer data and expectations that the sectarian fighting in Iraq won`t spread to the oil-producing south.

In corporate news, energy producer Encana has reached an agreement with Alberta-based Jupiter Resources to sell its Bighorn properties in the province for about $1.8-billion as the company focuses on a half-dozen core growth areas in specific regions. Encana shares slipped 26 cents to $25.32 (Canadian).

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