HL:Stocks up amid U.S. retail data, traders look ahead to Fed rate announcement@

Malcolm Morrison@ Published:

TORONTO -- The Toronto stock market was slightly higher Tuesday following a strong U.S. retail sales number.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 10.6 points to 12,438.61 and the TSX Venture Exchange gained 1.54 points to 1,637.64.

The Canadian dollar rose 0.06 of a cent to 100.8 cents US.

U.S. markets also advanced as retail sales ran ahead 1.1 per cent last month.

It was the biggest gain since September and the data provided evidence that a stronger job market is boosting the economy. Auto sales were strong and department stores had their biggest gain in more than a year.

Even without a 3.3 per cent rise in gasoline sales, retail sales would have increased a solid 0.8 per cent.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained 49.69 points to 13,009.4, the Nasdaq composite index was ahead 14.39 points to 2,998.05 and the S&P 500 index moved up 6.02 points to 1,377.11.

Traders also looked ahead to a mid-afternoon announcement by the U.S. Federal Reserve on interest rates.

The Fed is widely expected to leave interest rates unchanged. But investors will be closely monitoring the accompanying statement to see if U.S. rate-setters are a bit more confident about the state of the recovery following a run of upbeat economic data, particularly on the jobs front.

The TSX base metals sector led advancers, up 1.3 per cent as May copper rose three cents to US$3.87 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) climbed 38 cents to $35.87 and HudBay Minerals (TSX:HBM) gained 20 cents to $11.69.

Tech stocks were also strong with Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) ahead 29 cents to $13.34 while Celestica Inc. (TSX:CLS) was up 12 cents to $9.55.

The gold sector was flat as bullion prices slipped $11 to US$1,688.80 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) was up 38 cents to $46.63 while Iamgold (TSX:IMG) added six cents to $14.02.

Oil prices gave up early gains with the April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange down 52 cents to US$105.82 a barrel. The energy sector was down 0.14 per cent and Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) improved by 14 cents to $33.33 and Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) down 33 cents to $34.07.

Telecoms were also weak with BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) down 78 cents to $40.89.

In earnings news, Canadian media company and publisher Transcontinental Inc. (TSX:TCL.A) reported a $33.3 million loss, or 41 cents per share, compared to a profit of $25.7 million, or 32 cents per share, a year earlier. Adjusted net income was down six per cent to $27.1 million, or 33 cents per share, a penny lower than analyst expectations.

Revenues decreased four per cent to $495.9 million from $514.8 million.

Transcontinental also said it is raising its dividend by seven per cent to 14.5 cents but its shares dipped 22 cents to $12.66.

Clearwater Seafoods Inc. (TSX:CLR) had a $16.4-million profit in the fourth quarter, with $87.1 million of revenue. That's an improvement from the year-earlier period when the Halifax-based company had a loss of $4.9 million with $82.8 million of revenue. Clearwater shares gained 11 cents to $2.30.

In other corporate news, shares in Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (TSX:VRX) were off 19 cents to $54.08 as it said it is expanding its presence in Eastern Europe by acquiring Austrian generic drug company Gerot Lannach's assets primarily in Russia for less than $185 million. Gerot Lannach's largest product is acetylsalicylic acid, a low dose aspirin. The company said total sales of these products was about $55 million last year, up more than 20 per cent from 2010.

Buyers were also encouraged by another sign that Europe's biggest economy will avoid slipping into a recession. A closely-watched survey shows that German investor confidence rose for the fourth month in a row to hit its highest level since mid-2010.

The ZEW institute's confidence index rose to 22.3 points in March from 5.4 in February. That was a better performance than the rise to around 12 that economists had expected.

European bourses were positive as London's FTSE 100 index gained 0.59 per cent, Frankfurt's DAX rose 0.83 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 climbed 1.07 per cent.

In Asia, South Korea's Kospi rose 1.1 per cent, Hong Kong's Hang Seng added one per cent, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 climbed 1.2 per cent and the Nikkei 225 index closed less than 0.1 per cent higher.