TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed higher Tuesday as minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve's latest meeting on interest rates stoked hopes that the central bank may begin another round of economic stimulation as early as next month.
The S&P/TSX composite index closed 40.05 points higher at 12,575.64 as optimism that the Fed may act to increase the U.S. money supply was tempered by bank policy moves in Beijing that could slow the Chinese economy. That, in turn, put pressure on mining stocks.
The TSX Venture Exchange was up 18.46 points at 1,803.34.
The Canadian dollar rose 0.07 of a cent to 98.95 cents US after federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty said the government remains on track to balance the budget in just over five years.
Ottawa suffered the biggest deficit in history last year at $55.6 billion. In a fiscal update delivered Tuesday, Flaherty said Ottawa is roughly on track with its projections for spending and revenues and will record its first surplus in eight years in 2015-16.
Meanwhile, minutes of the Fed's closed-door deliberations last month suggest Fed chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues were closing in on a consensus for launching a new program aimed at pumping up the U.S. economy through the purchase of government debt.
Members, however, didn’t settle on how big the purchase should be or how to structure it. Such details are what Fed officials are currently wrestling with as their prepare for the next meeting on Nov. 2-3.
Stocks have been buoyant recently as investors decided it was a near certainty that the Fed would announce a second round of so-called quantitative easing. That would put more dollars into the financial system in an attempt to further drive down interest rates on mortgages, corporate loans and other debt in the hope of boosting economic activity and supporting prices.
Analysts say failure to launch another round of easing, known as QE2, would disappoint many investors.
“To the extent they don’t proceed with what people are now referring to as QE2 (at) that Fed meeting in early November, I think that would be greeted by and large as disappointing not only to equity markets but fixed income markets,” said Garey Aitken, director of equity research at Bissett Investment Management.
"I think it’s a virtual unanimous view now that they will proceed with that," Aitken said. "I guess the question is how much of that quantitative easing is already priced into equity markets and fixed income markets."
Financials led advancers on the TSX, with Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) ahead 61 cents at $59.84, while CIBC (TSX:CM) advanced 80 cents to $77.
Telecom stocks were also supportive with Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) up 74 cents at $40.46. BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) rose 52 cents to $34.12.
Fertilizer companies were also higher as corn prices surged amid signs of falling U.S. supplies — up eight per cent Monday to a two-year high of US$5.73 a bushel. On Tuesday, PotashCorp of Saskatchewan (TSX:POT) gained $1.51 to C$149.01 while Agrium Inc. (TSX:AGU) rose $4.37 to C$86.49. Rising corn prices could also pressure BHP Billiton into raising its US$38.6 billion bid for PotashCorp.
Other commodity stocks weakened after news reports said that regulators have told China’s biggest banks to set aside more reserves in a new move to control lending.
China’s top six lenders were ordered to increase reserves by 0.5 percentage points to 17.5 per cent of their deposits, the Beijing News and other newspapers reported. Strong demand from a growing Chinese economy has boosted prices for oil and metals on the resource-heavy Toronto stock market.
"I think the focus continues to be on those developing economies, China in particular," Aitken said. "The market just watches every data point from China and I think it is continuing to be very influential in terms of where global economic growth rates are going."
The base metals component fell 0.56 per cent with December copper on the New York Mercantile Exchange unchanged at US$3.79 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) gave back 31 cents to C$44.70 while Taseko Mines (TSX:TKO) gained 28 cents to C$6.49.
Railway stocks fell back alongside the mining stocks with Canadian National Railways (TSW:CNR) down 98 cents at $65.68 and Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) down 97 cents at $64.22.
Gold stocks also weakened with the December gold contract on the Nymex down $7.70 from Monday's latest record close to US$1,346.70 an ounce. Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K) declined 10 cents to C$19.15.
The TSX energy sector was up 0.29 per cent even as oil prices backed off in the wake of the Chinese report on bank reserves, with the November crude contract on the Nymex declining 54 cents to US$81.67 a barrel. Canadian Oil Sands Trust (TSX:COS.UN) dipped 18 cents to C$26.30 while Bankers Petroleum (TSX:BNK) gained six cents to C$6.95.
New York's Dow Jones industrial average was ahead 10.06 points at 11,020.4. The Nasdaq composite index was up 15.59 points at 2,417.92 while the S&P 500 closed 4.45 points higher at 1,169.77.
Markets on Wednesday could find some lift from a pair of solid U.S. earnings reports.
Chip giant Intel (Nasdaq:INTC) reported quarterly earnings of 52 cents a share, which beat analyst estimates of 50 cents a share. Revenue also beat forecasts at US$11.1 billion versus an expected US$10.99 billion. Its stock was up 21 cents at US$1977.
Railway CSX (NYSE:CSX) handed in quarterly earnings of US$1.08 a share, four cents better than analysts had forecast. Revenue for the latest quarter was US$2.7 billion, also besting analyst forecasts of US$2.66 billion. Its stock was down Tuesday at 91 cents at $57.26.
Elsewhere on the corporate front, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) has reportedly been given an extended deadline to satisfy demands by the Indian government for access to its BlackBerry encrypted email and instant messaging services. The deadline has been extended until Jan. 31, the Economic Times newspaper reported Tuesday. RIM has been in a standoff with Indian security agencies, which cite the threat of terrorism for their demands. RIM shares were down 43 cents at $49.55.
Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE) has agreed to buy King Pharmaceuticals Inc. for US$3.6 billion in cash. The price for the drugmaker represents a 40 per cent premium over King’s closing price on Monday. It would broaden Pfizer’s array of painkillers and drug delivery devices. Pfizer shares added 10 cents to US$17.48 in New York.
Talisman Energy Inc. (TSX:TLM) has stuck a joint venture deal with a Norwegian oil company to expand its stake in the Eagle Ford shale gas play in south Texas for more than US$1.3 billion. Talisman shares rose 13 cents to C$18.29.