Stock markets close higher amid impressive Canadian growth figures for Q4

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market started March with a solid gain amid news of strong economic growth at the end of last year and further indications the American manufacturing sector is expanding.

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market started March with a solid gain amid news of strong economic growth at the end of last year and further indications the American manufacturing sector is expanding.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 98.43 points to 11,728.06.

The Canadian dollar advanced a penny to 96.01 cents U.S. after Statistics Canada reported the economy grew at an annualized rate of five per cent in the fourth quarter, much better than the four per cent that was forecast.

Gross domestic product in December was 0.6 per cent higher than the previous month, compared with a 0.4 per cent gain that analysts had estimated.

"I never expected to see a number like that," said Kate Warne, Canadian markets specialist with Edward Jones in St. Louis.

"The fourth-quarter GDP growth certainly is a positive on the Canadian side."

The Institute for Supply Management's U.S. manufacturing index came in at 56.5 for February.

While the ISM report showed the sector expanding at a slower rate than the 57.8 reading that had been forecast, Warne said there was still growth and "that's what people are looking for right now - not slipping back."

The report also found that manufacturing employment is improving, which came as a relief ahead of the U.S. non-farms payroll report which comes out on Friday

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 78.53 points to 10,403.79, the Nasdaq composite index was up 35.31 points to 2,273.57 while the S&P 500 index climbed 11.22 points to 1,115.71.

The TSX Venture Exchange was up 6.42 points to 1,537.61.

The telecom sector was up 1.67 per cent with BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) ahead 80 cents to $30, while Telus Corp. (TSX:T) gained 58 cents to $35.11.

The industrials sector moved ahead 1.3 per cent with Canadian National Railways (TSX:CNR) ahead 87 cents to $56.17 and Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) up 17 cents to $5.86.

April gold on the Nymex slipped 60 cents to US$1,118.30 an ounce and the gold sector was up 1.15 per cent. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) rose 40 cents to $40.05.

The base metals sector was ahead 0.87 per cent as copper hit its highest level in 11 months in the wake of the severe earthquake that hit Chile, which is the world's biggest copper producer.

The May copper contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange earlier shot as high as US$3.47. But those gains faded away as traders realized damage to Chile's mining sector wasn't as great as earlier feared and the metal closed up seven cents to US$3.35 a pound.

"It's more the infrastructure of the country is in trouble, the copper mines are not," said Bob Tebbutt, vice-president of risk management at Peregrine Financial Group

Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) said "its Chilean operations were not damaged, have been minimally affected and are operating normally." Teck shares rose $1.24 to C$39.94.

Shares in Breakwater Resources (TSX:BWR), which operates mines in Chile, Honduras and Canada, were up half a cent to 43.5 cents. Its preliminary assessment was "no damage to infrastructure" at its Toqui mine site.

Elsewhere in the mining sector, Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto said Monday it has acquired 15 million additional shares in Ivanhoe Mines Ltd. (TSX:IVN), increasing its ownership in the Canadian company to 22.4 per cent. Rio Tinto paid $15.50 a share, for a total investment of $244 million. Ivanhoe shares gained 16 cents to $16.97. Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe Mines are development partners for the Oyu Tolgoi copper project in Mongolia.

Shares in Chariot Resources Ltd. (TSX:CHD) gained three cents to 65 cents on heavy volume of 15.6 million shares after the company said it has entered an agreement to be purchased by Hong Kong-traded China Sci-Tech Holdings Ltd. for $244.5 million.

The energy sector gained 0.88 per cent as the April crude contract in New York fell 96 cents to US$78.70 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) gained $1 to C$71.88.

South Korea's Korea Gas Corp. is investing $565-million in two Canadian natural gas plays. It has signed a three-year farm-in deal with EnCana Corp. (TSX:ECA) for 50 per cent interests in properties within the Montney and Horn River Basin shale formations in northeastern B.C. EnCana shares rose 82 cents to $35.31.

The financial sector moved up 0.85 per cent a day before Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) hands down quarterly earnings. Its shares moved 64 cents higher $56.64.

Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) shares closed up 46 cents to $48.26 after it announced a deal to acquire Royal Bank of Scotland's wholesale banking operations in Colombia. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The market also got a lift after American International Group Inc. agreed to sell its Asian life insurance business to Britain's Prudential PLC for US$35.5 billion. It's the biggest deal yet made by the troubled insurer since it received multiple bailout packages from the government during the credit crisis.

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