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A trader works on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
A trader works on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

The close: Bargain hunting lifts TSX, S&P 500 at record high Add to ...

The Toronto stock market registered a solid gain Monday, building on increases from last week as commodity prices rose and traders looked ahead to a busy week of important economic data and a slew of quarterly earnings reports.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 92.47 points to 12,312.67.

The strong advance came on top of a 1.28 per cent gain last week as bargain hunters stepped up after the index tumbled over two per cent in the previous week on signs of slower than expected growth in China and a big retreat in gold prices.

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“Between two weeks ago and then last week, with a bit of the rebound, I think it shows that there are still a lot of reasons to be relatively bullish long-term about the (Canadian) market,” said Craig Fehr, Canadian markets specialist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

“There’s a good justification for buying on these dips.”

The Canadian dollar rose 0.51 of a cent to 98.85 cents US.

U.S. markets were also positive amid signs that Americans are spending more despite the imposition of higher payroll taxes at the start of the year and further indications of an improving housing market.

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 106.2 points to 14,818.75 as the U.S. Commerce Department said American consumer spending increased 0.2 per cent in March. That followed a 0.7 per cent jump in the previous month.

Income increased 0.2 per cent last month, following a gain of 1.1 per cent in February

The Nasdaq composite index was 27.76 points higher to 3,307.02 and the S&P 500 index closed up 11.37 points to 1,593.61 - just fractionally above its previous record high.

Other data showed that the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes rose in March to the highest level in three years. The National Association of Realtors says that its seasonally adjusted index for pending home sales rose 1.5 per cent to 105.7.

Prices were higher across the board on commodity markets Monday. The gold sector was up about one per cent as the June bullion contract in New York rose $13.80 to US$1,467.40 an ounce amid a U.S. dollar that weakened ahead of a two-day meeting on interest rates by the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The Fed wraps up its two-day meeting Wednesday and investors are looking to see how supportive officials are in extending its third round of quantitative easing. That easing has taken the form of the Fed spending US$85 billion a month on mortgage backed securities and government Treasurys to keep long-term rates low and encourage lending.

The policies also raise the risk of inflation and gold is seen as a hedge against rising prices.

Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) climbed 69 cents to C$19.50.

Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K) faded seven cents to $5.49 as it announced it is going ahead with a full feasibility study aimed at a $2.7-billion expansion of its Tasiast open pit gold mine in Mauritania.

July copper in New York gained four cents to US$3.23 pound and the base metals component rose 1.25 per cent. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) was ahead 62 cents to $17.29.

The energy sector climbed almost one per cent with the June crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange ahead $1.50 to US$94.50 a barrel.

Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) was up 36 cents to $29.64 as the company prepares to hand in first-quarter earnings after the close Monday. Analysts expected net earnings of $1.01 billion or 71 cents a share, compared with profits of $321 million, or 66 cents per share a year earlier.

But beyond that, investors are anxious to see the energy giant return some money to them in the form of a significant dividend increase since the company has deferred spending on projects.

Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ), which posts earnings later in the week, advanced 38 cents to $29.96.

“When you look to earnings this week, obviously energy and materials have been beaten down quite badly over the past six months to a year and it’s weighed on the TSX to some degree,” added Fehr.

“We think the earnings growth profiles for Suncor, Canadian Natural Resources and a few others look pretty good and investors are getting an opportunity to buy energy companies at discounted prices right now.”

Outside of the resource sector, the tech component was up 0.6 per cent as BlackBerry Inc. (TSX:BB) ran ahead 53 cents to $15.78 after RBC Capital raised its estimate for shipments of BlackBerry 10 devices in the May quarter to 2.75 million from two million. Analyst Mark Sue cited early signs of “pent-up demand for the new Q10,” a new smartphone which features a keypad.

Sentiment was also lifted by hopes that the European Central Bank will announce a rate cut on Thursday. Analysts think a cut of 0.25 of a point to 0.5 per cent could be in the cards, which would be the ECB’s first rate cut since mid-2012 despite a deepening recession, an offshoot of the government debt crisis that is plaguing the 17-country currency union.

The major economic event is at the end of the week. The U.S. government is expected to announce that the economy created about 150,000 jobs in April, with the unemployment rate holding steady at 7.6 per cent.

On Tuesday, Statistics Canada releases its reading on economic growth for February. Economists forecast that gross domestic product rose by 0.2 per cent over the month following a similar rise in January.

On Monday, the TSX Venture Exchange dipped 0.29 of a point to 964.93.

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