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A trader is pictured at her desk in front of screens at the Frankfurt stock exchange July 13, 2011. (Amanda Andersen/Reuters)
A trader is pictured at her desk in front of screens at the Frankfurt stock exchange July 13, 2011. (Amanda Andersen/Reuters)

At midday: Stocks, commodities higher Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was modestly higher as gold hovered near a recent high.

The S&P/TSX composite index lifted 45.12 points to 12,749.64 near midday.

The Canadian dollar dropped 0.38 of a cent to 96.67 cents US after Statistics Canada reported that manufacturing sales fell in June for the fourth time in six months, dropping 0.5 per cent to $48.2-billion.

The TSX energy sector was up 0.9 per cent as the September crude contract rose 76 cents to $108.09 a barrel as unrest in Egypt keeps traders cautious over how it could affect supply through the region.

Though not an oil producer, Egypt controls the Suez canal that links the Mediterranean Sea and Red Sea, giving it a crucial role in maintaining global energy supplies.

Gold stocks fell 0.8 per cent while December gold bullion rose $6.10 to $1,367.00 an ounce. September copper gained 3.2 cents to $3.37 a pound.

In the U.S., the Commerce Department reported that builders began work last month on houses and apartments at a faster pace. The seasonally adjusted annual rate of starts was up six per cent to 896,000.

On Wall Street, the Dow ticked up 9.32 points to 15,121.51, the Nasdaq rose 11.01 points to 3,617.12 and the S&P 500 inched up 0.34 of a point to 1,661.66.

Retailers in the United States continue to be pressured with department store Nordstrom cutting its profit outlook for the year late Thursday. The company’s restraint added to bleak outlooks from Wal-Mart and Macy’s earlier this week, which have raised doubts that shoppers will spend enough to give the tepid U.S. economy a boost.

Traders have also been focusing on how the U.S. economy will influence timing for the U.S. Federal Reserve’s winding down of its massive bond-buying program. Many expect the Fed will make its first move next month, though the exact timing is still uncertain.

The $85-billion-a-month monetary stimulus has been seen by many as one of the reasons that Wall Street has touched new highs in recent months.

In Europe, Britain’s FTSE 100 increased 0.1 per cent to 6,492.24 while Germany’s DAX rose 0.2 per cent to 8,392.89. The CAC-40 in France was up 0.7 per cent to 4,119.96.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 index fell 0.8 per cent to close at 13,650.11 while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng shed 0.1 per cent to 22,517.81. South Korea’s Kospi declined 0.2 per cent to 1,920.11.

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