At the open: TSX moves up amid Syria jitters, positive jobs data

TORONTO — The Canadian Press

Trader Stephen Mara, centre, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, Aug. 27, 2013. (Richard Drew/AP)

The Toronto stock market was slightly higher Thursday as caution continues to rule markets amid uncertainty over Syria and ahead of August U.S. jobs data.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 19.68 points to 12,777.49.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.06 of a cent to 95.37 cents (U.S.).

U.S. indexes were higher as traders digested positive jobs data a day before the release of American employment data for August.

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The Dow Jones industrials gained 53.34 points to 14,984.21 as payroll firm ADP reported that the American private sector created 176,000 jobs last month.

Economists expect that the U.S. economy cranked out a total of about 180,000 jobs during the month.

Also, the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dropped 9,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 323,000, near the lowest level since June 2008.

Weekly applications are just 1,000 above a five-year low reached last month, the Labor Department said Thursday. The four week average, a less volatile measure, declined 3,000 to 328,500. That’s the lowest point since October 2007.

The jobs numbers out Friday may determine if or how much the U.S. Federal Reserve pulls back on the asset purchases that have kept long term rates low and supported a rally on many stock markets this year.

The Nasdaq gained 15.67 points to 3,664.71 and the S&P 500 index climbed 5.87 points 1,658.95.

Markets have been preoccupied this week with the prospect of the U.S. leading a military strike against the regime of Syrian president Bashar Assad, which it accuses of using deadly sarin gas against civilians. President Barack Obama is seeking congressional approval for such a strike and a vote could come as soon as next week.

Oil prices rose after new U.S. indicators underlined a modest recovery in the world’s biggest economy.

October crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange ahead 75 cents to $107.98 (U.S.) a barrel and the energy sector gained 0.25 per cent.

A jump in U.S. auto sales helped brighten the outlook for oil consumption. General Motors and other U.S. car makers posted strong sales in August, giving the auto industry its best month in six years.

The Federal Reserve also said Wednesday that surveys showed moderate growth throughout the country.

Other commodities were lower as December copper edged a penny lower to $3.23 (U.S.) a pound. The base metals sector rose 0.3 per cent and Turquoise Hill Resources was a dime higher to $5.47 (Canadian).

Gold stocks were the biggest TSX weight while December bullion declined $1.40 to $1,388.60 (U.S.) an ounce. Goldcorp was down more than one per cent to $31.14.

A U.S. hedge fund is making a renewed call for changes at Barrick Gold, calling for the break up of the company and the addition of a mining engineer and geologist to its board. Mike Morris, principal and founder of Two Fish Management, says that there is no compelling reason for Barrick to own a worldwide conglomerate of gold mines. Barrick edged 39 cents lower to $20.01.

Elsewhere on the corporate front, BlackBerry was up 36 cents or 3.2 per cent to $11.64 after the Wall Street Journal reported that the smartphone maker has narrowed the list of possible bidders for all or part of the company, and hopes to wrap up the auction by November.

U.S. forestry giant Louisiana-Pacific Corp. plans to buy Vancouver-based Ainsworth Lumber Co. Ltd. for $1.1-billion (U.S.). Louisiana-Pacific will pay $3.76 (Canadian) per share. Ainsworth shares jumped 88 cents or 30 per cent to $3.82.

Overseas, the Bank of England has kept its benchmark interest rate at a record-low 0.5 per cent. The decision was widely expected, as new Governor Mark Carney has said the bank would refrain from raising rates until unemployment fell from the current 7.8 per cent to seven per cent.

The European Central Bank also left its benchmark interest rate unchanged at a record low of 0.5 per cent. The bank’s governing council decided at its monthly meeting Thursday that the slowly recovering euro area economy didn’t need a further stimulus.

European bourses advanced as London’s FTSE 100 index gained 0.53 per cent, the Paris CAC 40 was up 0.26 per cent while Frankfurt’s DAX added 0.16 per cent.

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