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The screens at the TMX Broadcast Centre in Toronto are pictured on on Wednesday, July 11, 2012.

Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

North American stocks held onto early gains in midday trading on Thursday, as investors reacted to Wednesday night's presidential debate and a downbeat assessment of the euro zone economy from the European Central Bank.

Shortly after noon, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 93 points or 0.7 per cent, to 13,587. The broader S&P 500 was up 10 points or 0.7 per cent, to 1461. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 70 points or 0.6 per cent, to 12,429.

The gains follow the first debate between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, in which many observers – including Democrat supporters – believed Mr. Romney (Wall Street's candidate of choice, given what they see as his "pro-business" agenda) outperformed Mr. Obama.

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Meanwhile, initial jobless claims for the period ended last week rose less than expected, providing a semblance of stability. Claims rose just 4,000, to 367,000. Economists had been expecting 370,000 claims.

The European Central Bank held its key interest rate unchanged at 0.75 per cent. However, it downgraded growth prospects for the region. It now believes economic activity will contract by 0.4 per cent, worse than an earlier projection of a 0.1 per cent dip.

Within the S&P 500, economically sensitive stocks showed the biggest gains. Financials rose 1.3 per cent, materials rose 1.2 per cent, energy stocks rose 1 per cent and consumer discretionary stocks rose 0.7 per cent.

In Canada, materials rose 1 per cent, telecom stocks rose 0.6 per cent, financials rose 0.4 per cent and energy stocks rose 0.3 per cent.

In Europe, the U.K.'s FTSE 100 ended the day almost unchanged, while Germany's DAX index fell 0.2 per cent.

Among commodities, gold rose to $1,794 (U.S.) an ounce, up $14. Crude oil rebounded from Wednesday's slide, rising to $90.31 a barrel, up $2.17.

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