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The screens at the TMX Broadcast Centre in Toronto show the closing numbers of the TSX on Tuesday, July 3, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)
The screens at the TMX Broadcast Centre in Toronto show the closing numbers of the TSX on Tuesday, July 3, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)

At the open: Gold sinks TSX Add to ...

North American markets fell Thursday amid a slew of earnings reports and corporate news in Canada, while attention in the U.S. turns to next week’s Federal Reserve policy meeting.

The S&P/TSX composite index was down 79.28 points to 12,746.14. The Canadian dollar was down 0.15 of a cent to 96.80 cents US.

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The likelihood that the Fed will start to reduce its stimulus program has shaken markets in recent weeks after the U.S. central bank indicated it will start to wind down its $85-billion in monthly bond purchases on signs of an improved economy.

The asset purchases are widely credited with holding down interest rates and breathing life into stock markets, and the investment terrain will likely endure a shake-up if the Fed announces it will taper asset purchases, which could happen as early as next week.

U.S. indexes were relatively flat, as the Dow Jones industrials edged up 3.07 points to 15,329.67, the Nasdaq was up 1.79 points to 3,723.22 and the S&P 500 dipped 1.29 points to 1,687.84.

The Toronto stock exchange was pulled down in early-morning trading by steep declines in the gold, materials and metal and mining sectors. The gold sector was the leading decliner at 4.38 per cent, as shares in Barrick Gold fell nearly five per cent, or 92 cents, to $18.28. December bullion fell $37 to $1,326.80 (U.S.) an ounce.

The metals and mining sector was down 2.28 per cents, as Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) saw its stock go down by 2.16 per cent or 93 cents to $28.54. December copper dipped six cents to $3.20 a pound.

Meanwhile, the energy sector was ahead at 0.17 per cent, as the October crude contract rose 51 cents to $108.07.

In corporate news, Rogers Communications said it has appointed the CEO of Vodafone U.K. as successor to its outgoing president and CEO. Guy Laurence, 52, will become top executive of Toronto-based Rogers (TSX:RCI.B) in December. He is succeeding Nadir Mohamed, who had previously announced his intention to retire as CEO of the wireless, cable and media company. Rogers shares were up 0.51 per cent, or 22 cents, to $43.32 following the announcement.

There was a lot of other news to digest early in the day, as a slew of earnings reports were released by two Canadian retail juggernauts.

Shares in athletic clothing retailer Lululemon Athletica Inc.. (NASDAQ:LULU) fell more than six per cent, or $4.16, to $64.86 (U.S.) after the Vancouver reported mixed earnings results. It said its second-quarter revenue of $344.5-million, up 22 per cent from the same time last year. But Lululemon lowered its full-year outlook, with diluted earnings now estimated at between $1.94 and $1.97 per share, down from the previous estimate of between $1.96 to $2.01.

Canada’s oldest company, Hudson’s Bay Co. (TSX:HBC), reported improved “normalized” net earnings from continuing operations. They rose to $3.9-million or three cents per share in the quarter ended Aug. 4, compared with a loss of two cents per share or $2-million in the second quarter of 2012. HBC’s overall retail sales rose to $947.7-million, from $911.9-million a year earlier. Its shares were up slightly by 0.41 per cent to $17.12.

In economic news, Statistics Canada said its new housing price index rose 0.2 per cent in July, following an identical increase the previous month. The agency says the combined metropolitan region of Toronto and Oshawa, as well as the Calgary region, were the top contributors to the increase. The largest local monthly price advance in July, 0.7 per cent, came in St John’s, N.L., where builders cited an increase in land development costs as the primary reason for higher prices.

In the U.S., the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits plummeted last week by 31,000 to a seasonally adjusted 292,000. But the drop was mostly because of technical issues in two states that delayed the processing of applications. The U.S. Labor Department said the less volatile four-week average fell to 321,250, the lowest in six years.

On Friday, the U.S. Commerce Department will also release its retail sales data for August. Retail sales figures are an important economic indicator because it gauges discretionary spending.

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