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At the open: Stocks rise, BlackBerry surges

A BlackBerry 10 smartphone device.

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

BlackBerry Ltd. shares surged and the Toronto stock market was slightly higher Thursday amid data showing a deepening contraction of the Chinese manufacturing sector and earnings from Canadian corporate heavyweights including grocer Loblaw and coffee chain Tim Hortons.

The S&P/TSX composite index was ahead 12.47 points to 14,132.2 as traders also focused on TransCanada after the pipeline company's Keystone XL project suffered a major setback in a Nebraska court. A judge on Wednesday overturned a state law that could have forced landowners to allow the pipeline through their property. The state will appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, TransCanada said Thursday its quarterly net income was $420-million or 59 cents per share, missing estimates by a penny. It also raised its quarterly dividend by four per cent to 48 cents a share and its shares declined 56 cents to $49.33.

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Facebook Inc.'s $19-billion bid for fast-growing mobile-messaging startup WhatsApp sent shares of BlackBerry 3.55 per cent higher as investors placed bets that the smartphone maker's own messaging platform has been undervalued.

BlackBerry Messaging, or BBM, was a pioneering mobile-messaging service, but its user base has failed to keep pace with that of WhatsApp and other upstarts, in part because BlackBerry had long refused to open the service to users on other platforms. WhatsApp, with a user base of about 450 million, has grown rapidly. Its service works on Apple Inc.'s iOS platform, Google Inc.'s market-dominating Android operating system and with devices powered by both the Windows and BlackBerry operating systems.

BBM remains popular, even though BlackBerry devices have waned in popularity. Late last year, the Waterloo, Ontario-based company finally opened the messaging platform to users of iPhones and Android devices, and the number of the service's active users has grown to more than 80 million.

The Canadian dollar lost 0.07 of a cent to 90.17 cents (U.S.).

U.S. indexes were little changed with the Dow Jones industrials up 4.78 points to 16,045.34, the Nasdaq composite index declined 2.94 points to 4,235.01 while the S&P 500 index added 0.23 of a point to 1,828.98.

Commodity prices fell as HSBC's preliminary version of its monthly China purchasing managers' index fell to a seven-month low of 48.3 from January's 49.5 on a 100-point scale. Numbers below 50 show activity contracting.

China's economic activity has slowed steadily as the government tries to cool an investment boom and encourage more sustainable growth based on domestic consumption.

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The consumer staples sector led advancers as Loblaw reported $183-million or 65 cents per share of adjusted net earnings in the fourth quarter, down 1.1 per cent from a year earlier but 10 cents above estimates. Revenue was up 2.3 per cent to $7.64-billion, also better than expected and its shares climbed $1.90 to $44.18.

Tim Hortons posted net earnings of 69 cents a share, up from 65 cents a year ago but below analyst estimates of 77 cents. Revenue was up 10.7 per cent to $898.5-million. The company also said it is raising its quarterly dividend by about 23 per cent and its shares gained $1.22 to $59.16.

The gold sector was up 0.55 per cent while April gold fell $4.60 to $1,315.80 an ounce.

The telecom sector fell 0.7 per cent a day after the federal government's latest auction for wireless spectrum. The biggest bidder for the 20-year licenses was Rogers, which paid $3.29-billion for 22 licences across the country, except in the Yukon, Northwest Territories and Nunavut and its shares fell $1.59 to $41.17.

The utilities sector fell 1.6 per cent after power producer TransAlta Corp. reported a fourth-quarter loss of $66-million or 25 cents per share compared with a profit of $39-million or 15 cents per share in the last quarter of 2012. The company also cut its quarterly dividend by a penny to 28 cents a share and its shares tumbled 11.47 per cent to $13.12.

The energy sector was down 0.27 per cent while the March crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped 17 cents to $103.14 a barrel.

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The base metals segment was also off 0.27 per cent with March copper down one cent to $3.28 a pound.

– With files from Reuters

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