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The screens at the TMX Broadcast Centre in Toronto show the closing numbers of the TSX on July 11, 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 July 11, 2012. (Matthew Sherwood For The Globe and Mail)

At the open: TSX slightly higher amid Syria worries Add to ...

The Toronto stock market chalked up a minor gain Wednesday as worries about the prospect of a U.S.-led military strike on Syria continued to discourage buyers.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 17.93 points to 12,609.14 as the market found support from rising gold stocks and record earnings from National Bank (TSX:NA).

Canada’s sixth-biggest bank posted net income of $419-million or $2.39 a diluted share, up from $353-million or $1.98 per share in the same 2012 period. Revenue rose five per cent to $1.29-billion from $1.22-billion. Ex-items, net income was a record $391-million or $2.22 per diluted share, 16 cents higher than analysts expected and its shares rose 86 cents to $80.11.

The Canadian dollar was lower as investors avoided riskier assets such as commodity based currencies and equities, falling 0.15 of a cent to 95.32 cents US.

U.S. indexes were also slightly higher as the Dow Jones industrials were ahead 31.8 points to 14,807.93, the Nasdaq climbed 13.33 points 3,591.85 and the S&P 500 index rose 3.26 points to 1,633.74.

Worries about an attack grew after the United Nations’ special envoy to Syria said that evidence suggests that some kind of chemical “substance” was used in Syria that may have killed more than 1,000 people. But Lakhdar Brahimi added that any military strike in response must first gain UN Security Council approval.

His comments came as a UN inspection team was investigating the alleged poison gas attack near Damascus on Aug. 21.

Concerns that western intervention in Syria’s civil war could derail an already fragile global economic recovery sent stocks sharply lower Tuesday, with both the TSX and the Dow plunging about 170 points. The showing left the TSX where it started August trading while the Dow hit its lowest level in two months.

The gold sector led advancers, up 1.5 per cent as gold prices continued to benefit from risk aversion with the December bullion contract up 30 cents to $1,420.50 (U.S.) an ounce following a $27 surge on Tuesday. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) advanced 37 cents to $21.01.

Gold has also been in demand through its status as a haven in times of geopolitical uncertainty. Earlier, it had hit a three-month high of $1,434.

The energy sector was ahead 0.7 per cent as oil ran up to its highest level in over two years on worries over supply disruptions. The October contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange was off early highs but still up 85 cents to $109.86 (U.S.) a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) was ahead 49 cents to $32.23 (Canadian).

The metals and mining sector was up 0.6 per cent while the September copper contract was down two cents to $3.31 (U.S.) a pound. HudBay Minerals (TSX:HBM) rose 10 cents to $7.13 (Canadian).

In other corporate news, transport giant Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) has signed a preliminary agreement with a Russian state corporation for the purchase of as many as 100 Q400 NextGen aircraft in a deal that could be worth up to $3.39-billion (U.S.). The agreement includes 50 Q400 NextGen aircraft to be sold to Russian operators and the potential placement of at least another 50 in the region. Bombardier gained six cents to $4.63.

European bourses were also lower for a second day as London’s FTSE 100 lost 0.64 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX fell 1.6 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 was off 0.65 per cent.

Elsewhere in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index sank 1.5 per cent to its lowest finish in two months, while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng dropped 1.6 per cent. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 slid 1.1 per cent.

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