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Loonie ends higher despite widening trade deficit

Canadian loonie on a $10 bill.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian dollar closed higher Thursday even as government data showed that the country's international trade position worsened in December.

The loonie shed early losses to move up 0.08 of a cent to 90.33 cents (U.S.) after Statistics Canada reported that the trade deficit was $1.7-billion (Canadian) in December. That was up from a revised deficit figure for November, which Statscan increased to $1.5-billion from $900-million.

The agency reported that merchandise imports grew by 1.2 per cent in December while exports increased 0.9 per cent.

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The loonie gained while the greenback weakened after European Central Bank president Mario Draghi said he didn't expect deflation to take hold in Europe because there was no downward price spiral feeding on itself.

Earlier in the day, the ECB opted to leave its key interest rate unchanged at 0.25 per cent.

Another source of U.S. dollar weakness was the latest trade numbers.

The U.S. trade deficit increased in December to $38.7-billion (U.S.), up 12 per cent from November. U.S. exports slipped 1.8 per cent to $191.3-billion while imports were up 0.3 per cent to $230-billion. But for the year, the deficit fell to its lowest point since 2009 as exports rose to an all-time high.

Traders are now focused on Canadian employment data for January, which comes out Friday. Economists are looking for a gain of about 20,000 jobs.

The U.S. government's employment report for January also comes out Friday. Economists expect that 183,000 jobs were created during the month following a meagre 74,000 gain in December that was largely attributed to the weather.

On Thursday, traders took in the latest reading on U.S. jobless insurance claims, which are a proxy for layoffs. They fell last week by a greater-than-expected 20,000 to 331,000 last week.

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On the commodity markets, March crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange moved 46 cents higher to $97.84 a barrel.

March copper was up 4 cents to $3.23 a pound while April gold bullion inched up 30 cents to $1,257.20 an ounce.

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