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Equities

Canada’s main stock index started lower Wednesday on weaker crude prices while rising coronavirus infections and renewed tensions between the U.S. and China weighed on the Dow and S&P 500 south of the border.

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At 9:30 a.m. ET, the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was down 13.53 points, or 0.08 per cent, at 16,149.43.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 15.84 points, or 0.06 per cent, at the open to 26,824.56. The S&P 500 fell 1.98 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 3,255.34 after market open. The Nasdaq Composite gained 7.22 points, or 0.07 per cent, to 10,687.58 at the opening bell.

Milan Cutkovic, market analyst at AxiCorp, said markets continue to feel pressure for the rise of coronavirus infections in some regions of the United States, with U.S. President Donald Trump now saying that the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

“However, the short-term outlook for equity markets remains positive,” he said. “There will likely be further stimulus measures in the United States, which should boost market sentiment.”

“Furthermore, the recent progress in the search for a COVID-19 vaccine is giving investors hope that the pandemic can be brought under control in the near future.”

Wednesday’s focus, he said, will be on the latest results from Microsoft Corp. and Tesla Inc., both due after the bell.

“Microsoft is likely to exceed expectations due to its booming cloud business,” Mr. Cutkovic said. “Meanwhile, Tesla investors should brace themselves for a roller-coaster ride: expectations are very high, which is also reflected in the share price.”

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In morning trading, shares of Snap Inc. were down more than 7 per cent after the company reported fewer active daily users than Wall Street analysts were expecting. The company said after Tuesday’s close that the bump in user growth seen at the start of the pandemic lockdown lost steam sooner than expected.

The Snapchat owner said daily active users (DAUs), a widely watched metric by investors and advertisers, rose 17 per cent to 238 million in the second quarter ended June 30. Analysts had expected 238.44 million, according to IBES data from Refinitiv. Snap forecast 242 million to 244 million daily active users in the current quarter, below analysts’ target of 244.82 million according to Refinitiv data.

Sentiment also took a hit after Beijing said it had been told to close its consulate in Houston. China condemned the move and threatened retaliation.

In this country, Rogers Communications Inc. said revenue in the latest quarter fell about 17 per cent to $3.16-billion, hit by a decline in store traffic as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns. Analysts had been expecting revenue of $3.18-billion, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

Rogers shares were down more than 3 per cent in early trading in Toronto.

Canadian Pacific Railway also reported before the start of trading.

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After the close of trading on Tuesday, Canadian National Railway Co. said revenue fell by 19 per cent in the second quarter, as the COVID-19 pandemic drove down industrial activity and consumer demand. The Globe’s Eric Atkins reports that CN’s profit for the three months ending June 30 dropped by 59 per cent to $545-million, or 77 cents a share, from $1.36-billion or $1.88 in the same period a year ago. Revenue slumped to $3.2-billion, from $4-billion. CN’s operating ratio, a measure of cost versus sales, deteriorated to 75.5 per cent.

On a conference call with analysts, CN chief executive officer Jean-Jacques Ruest called it the “toughest quarter of his career.”

In Europe, major markets in Europe were lower. The pan-European STOXX 600 fell 0.90 per cent by afternoon. Britain’s FTSE 100 fell 0.70 per cent. Germany’s DAX slid 0.41 per cent. France’s CAC 40 was down 1.02 per cent.

In Asia, the Shanghai Composite Index edged up 0.37 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 2.25 per cent. Japan’s Nikkei fell 0.58 per cent.

Commodities

Crude prices fell after new figures showed a rise in U.S. inventories, adding to concerns that the rise of coronavirus infections could weigh on recovering demand.

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The day range on Brent so far is US$43.70 to US$44.39. The range on West Texas Intermediate is US$41.22 to US$41.93.

The American Petroleum Institute said late Tuesday that crude stocks rose by 7.5 million barrels last week. Markets had been expecting a decline of more than 2 million barrels.

“This brings unwelcome focus to the ongoing problem of high global inventories and could limit the upside for oil over the short term even if the bump were due to a mismatch in exports vs. imports,” AxiCorp chief market strategist Stephen Innes said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration releases official oil data later on Wednesday.

Rising tension between the United States and China over the coronavirus and Hong Kong also took a toll on sentiment.

China said that the United States had abruptly told it to close its consulate in Houston - a move that Beijing said it strongly condemns, threatening retaliation, according to a Reuters report.

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In other commodities, gold prices jumped more than 1 per cent to touch the highest levels in nearly nine years amid hope for further government stimulus to offset the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spot gold rose 1 per cent to US$1,859.56 per ounce, after hitting its highest since September 2011 at US$1,865.35 earlier in the session.

U.S. gold futures rose 0.9 per cent to US$1,860.40.

“The specter of these [government] stimulus packages has pushed investors back into non-yielding assets like gold,” ANZ analyst Daniel Hynes said.

“The likelihood of interest rates remaining low for the foreseeable future and the weaker U.S. dollar have really boosted investor appetite.”

Currencies

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The Canadian dollar advanced after Statistics Canada said Canada’s annual rate of inflation rose more than expected in June.

The day range on the loonie was 74.17 US cents to 74.51 US cents. The dollar was near the upper end of that spread shortly after release of the latest inflation figures.

Statistics Canada said the country’s annual rate of inflation came in at 0.7 per cent in June following May’s decline of 0.4 per cent. Economists had been forecasting a rebound but most expected a softer reading of about 0.2 per cent year-over-year. On a monthly basis, the consumer price index rose 0.8 per cent, also more than the 0.4-per-cent increase markets had been forecasting.

“Looking ahead, as the economy continues to reopen, inflation should remain in positive territory,” RBC economist Royce Mendes said. “That said, the significant slack that is expected to persist will create an underlying drag on the pricing environment for businesses.

" As a result, while any fears of deflation appear premature at this point, the economy will likely only be generating modest rates of inflation even with some supply-chain disruptions.”

On global markets, the U.S. dollar index, which weighs the greenback against a group of world currencies, erased some losses as risk sentiment flagged. The index was up 0.2 per cent early Wednesday at 95.292, still trading close to four-month lows. Late Tuesday, the index hit its lowest level since March after Mr. Trump indicated that the current spike in coronavirus infections would likely get worse before improving.

China’s offshore yuan weakened past 7 per U.S. dollar and was last at 7.0028 on news that China had been told to close its consulate in Houston.

The Australian dollar erased the day’s gains. Having hit a new high of $0.7168 versus the U.S. dollar, its strongest since April 2019, it then retreated to $0.7129, flat on the day, according to Reuters. The New Zealand dollar also erased its gains from earlier in the session and was flat on the day at $0.6641.

More company news

Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd reported a 12.3% fall in quarterly profit on Wednesday, hurt by a decline in freight activity due to coronavirus-related lockdowns. The company’s net income fell to $635-million, or $4.66 per share, in the second quarter ended June 30, from $724-million, or $5.17 per share, a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, Canadian Pacific earned $4.07 per share. Its revenue declined 9.3% to $1.79-billion.

French TGV high-speed train maker Alstom expects to secure European Union approval by the end of the month to buy Bombardier’s rail business, Chief Executive Henri Poupart-Lafarge said. Poupart-Lafarge also told a parliamentary hearing that Alstom hoped to find a solid candidate to buy its French site in Reichshoffen in eastern France.

Italy’s antitrust authority said on Wednesday it had opened an investigation into whether Apple Inc and Amazon Inc had engaged in anti-competitive cooperation in the sale of Apple products and Beats headphones. It said the investigation was aimed at establishing whether Apple and Amazon had reached an anti-competitive agreement to prevent electronics reailers not included in Apple’s official programme to sell the products.

The United States government said on Wednesday it will pay US$1.95-billion for Pfizer Inc to produce and deliver 100 million doses of its COVID-19 vaccine candidate in the United States. The agreement allows the U.S. government to acquire an additional 500 million doses, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Defense said.

Economic news

Statistics Canada says the consumer price index for June was up 0.7 per cent compared with a year ago. The consumer price index had registered two months of negative readings leading up to June as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down wide swaths of the economy.

(9 a.m. ET) U.S. FHFA house price index for May.

(10 a.m. ET) U.S. existing home sales for June.

With Reuters and The Canadian Press

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