At the open: TSX advances, traders await QE statement

TORONTO — The Canadian Press

In this Feb. 26, 2013 file photo, Federal Reserve Board Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the Senate Banking Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

The Toronto stock market registered a strong, early gain with traders anxious to see what the Federal Reserve has to say about cutting back on its monthly asset purchases.

The S&P/TSX composite index ran ahead 105.01 points to 13,285.17.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.23 of a cent to 94.02 cents (U.S.) as the greenback strengthened ahead of an afternoon announcement from the Fed at the conclusion of its two-day meeting on interest rates.

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U.S. indexes advanced with the Dow Jones industrials up 58.27 points to 15,933.53, the Nasdaq rose 2.07 points to 4,025.75 and the S&P 500 index climbed 3.67 points to 1,784.67.

Speculation has grown recently that a recent series of strong economic data may persuade the Fed to use this meeting to announce it is cutting back on its monthly purchases of $85-billion (U.S.) of bonds. Those purchases have kept long term rates low and encouraged investors to put their money into stocks, which has in turn supported a strong rally on equity markets this year.

“Our economists are calling taper at this meeting a 50/50 decision,” said BMO Capital Markets senior economist Michael Gregory in a commentary.

Gregory said one of the best arguments for tapering now is that the Fed’s objective of quantitative easing when launched in September, 2012, was to reduce unemployment, which at that time stood at 8.1 per cent.

“But now, based off of November data, unemployment stands at seven per cent. Furthermore, three of the last four jobs readings have been north of 200,000. This is the perfect time to celebrate (outgoing chairman Ben) Bernanke’s achievement and declare ‘mission accomplished’!”

The Fed makes its announcement at 2 p.m. EST, followed by a news conference by Bernanke at 2:30 p.m.

Financials led advancers, up 0.9 per cent as Manulife Financial improved by 24 cents to $19.97.

The telecom sector was up 0.7 per cent as Industry Minister James Moore says the government will move to prevent wireless providers from charging customers of rival companies more than they charge their own customers for domestic roaming. The CRTC is already investigating the issue of whether big wireless companies are charging their smaller Canadian competitors too much to use their networks. The minister says planned legislative changes will be in place until the CRTC makes a decision on roaming rates. Rogers Communications was up 54 cents to $47.71.

The gold sector was ahead 0.5 per cent as February gold gained $2.90 to $1,233 (U.S.) an ounce. Goldcorp was ahead 21 cents to $22.78 (Canadian).

Barrick Gold Corp. said that former American Airlines chief executive Donald Carty and Signalta Capital president Robert Franklin have resigned from the company’s board of directors. Barrick has been working to revamp and improve its corporate governance. Earlier this month, Barrick announced that founder and co-chairman Peter Munk would retire. Barrick shares gained 10 cents to $18.33.

The energy sector moved ahead 0.55 per cent with January crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange 43 cents higher to $97.65 (U.S.) a barrel. Suncor Energy was ahead 38 cents to $35.89 (Canadian).

Imperial Oil Ltd. has applied for regulatory approval to build a new oilsands project northeast of Fort McMurray, Alta., which would cost an estimated $7-billion. Imperial expects to build its Aspen project in three, 45,000-barrel-per-day phases. The first phase of Imperial’s $12.9-billion Kearl oilsands mine north of Fort McMurray started up earlier this year. Imperial gained 21 cents to $45.58.

March copper declined a penny to $3.31 (U.S.) a pound while the base metals component rose 0.6 per cent. First Quantum Minerals gained 17 cents to $17.24 (Canadian).

Elsewhere on the corporate front, a federal-review-panel report on Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway pipeline, which would link the Alberta oil sands with a tanker port on the B.C. coast will be released Thursday following more than a year of hearings. The highly anticipated report on the controversial project will include the panel’s recommendations for the project but the final decision on whether the pipeline can go ahead rests with the federal government. Enbridge rose 44 cents to $44.39.

BlackBerry Ltd. has appointed a 20-year veteran of the mobile telecommunications industry as president of its Global Enterprise Services as the struggling smartphone company focuses on its business customers. John Sims is joining BlackBerry in January from SAP, where he served as president of the business software company’s mobile services business. BlackBerry added two cents to $6.50, two days before the company posts earnings.

In the U.S., FedEx Corp. posted net income that was 14 per cent higher than a year earlier, when superstorm Sandy hurt business. However, the second-quarter profit of $1.57 per share was lower than the $1.64 per share expected by analysts. Revenue rose three per cent to $11.4-billion, about what analysts were expecting.

FedEx raised its full-year profit outlook slightly and its shares declined 72 cents to $138.37 (U.S.).

European bourses were higher as London’s FTSE 100 index rose 0.2 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX gained 1.01 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 index was ahead 0.9 per cent.

Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 closed two per cent higher, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index climbed 0.3 per cent, China’s Shanghai Composite index edged down 0.1 per cent and South Korea’s Kospi finished 0.5 per cent higher.

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