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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 17, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 17, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

At midday: S&P 500 hits record high Add to ...

North American stock markets were higher near midday as investors digested some mildly encouraging data on the state of both the U.S. and Canadian economies.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 12.57 points to 14,347.88, while the Canadian dollar traded ahead 0.27 of a cent at 90.73 cents US.

In the U.S., the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index rose to 53.7 in March, up from 53.2 in February, as factories continued to rev up following the severe winter storms earlier this year.

Separately, the Commerce Department said construction spending rose by 0.1 per cent in February, after falling by 0.2 per cent in January. That number was in line with investors’ expectations.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials added 55.81 points to 16,513.47, the Nasdaq lifted 49.05 points to 4,248.04 and the S&P 500 index rose 7.23 points to 1,879.57. The S&P 500 had earlier hit an intrady high of 1,885 - a new record.

New data from the Royal Bank suggested that Canadian exports are leading an improvement in domestic business conditions.

The RBC Canadian Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index registered 53.3 in March, the 12th consecutive month that the PMI has indicated expansion, although a weaker Canadian dollar also increased manufacturers’ input costs.

The March reading is up from 52.9 in the previous month and the highest since December.

Comments from U.S. Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen on Monday gave investors a better idea of a roapmap for the economy. Yellen said she thinks the struggling U.S. job market will continue to need the help of low interest rates “for some time.”

Yellen had raised concerns that U.S. interest rates may begin to rise sooner than expected when she suggested last month that the Fed could start raising short-term rates six months after it halts its bond purchases. Most economists expect the quantitative easing program to end this year.

In commodities, the May crude delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange was down $1.06 at US$100.52 a barrel. The TSX energy sector declined 0.4 per cent.

Two Western Canadian oil companies are preparing to combine their businesses. Surge Energy Inc. (TSX:SGY) is offering to buy Longview Oil Corp. (TSX:LNV) in a mostly stock deal that the companies value at $429 million, including assumed debt. Surge shares fell 12 cents to $6.02 while Longview gained three cents to $5.79.

May copper was less than a penny higher at US$3.03 a pound while June bullion was down $2.30 to US$1,281.50 an ounce.

In the United States, General Motors’ new CEO Mary Barra and the head of the nation’s auto safety watchdog are headed to Congress on today where they will testify about a defect in small cars that is linked to 13 deaths.

In written testimony released ahead of the House subcommittee hearing, acting National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief David Friedman says GM had information connecting defective ignition switches to the non-deployment of air bags, but didn’t share it until last month.

European bourses are up with London’s FTSE 100 index rising 0.8 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX is ahead 0.4 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 has gained 0.8 per cent.

In Asia, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 is down 0.24 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng is ahead 1.34 per cent and China’s Shanghai Composite Index is up 0.70 per cent.

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