The Toronto stock market racked up a modest gain late Thursday morning as commodity prices rose amid further evidence that the U.S. economy is continuing its slow but steady revival.
The S&P/TSX Composite Index increased 77.92 points to close Thursday at 12,455.82
The Canadian dollar slid 0.09 cents to 100.59 cents U.S.
Trading in shares of Viterra Inc., Canada's largest publicly traded grain handler, were halted prior to its announcement that the company's board has established a process to review potential takeover offers. It acknowledged that there have been expressions of interest but provided no detail.
Based on Wednesday's closing price of $14.65 per share, Viterra is currently worth about $5.4 billion although many market observers say the price could go higher if there's a bidding war for the company. When trading resumed, Viterra stock reached $16.09 before the close, higher by $1.44, or 9.8%.
The industrials sector climbed with Canadian National Railways ahead $1.50 to $79.17.
The financials sector was also supportive, as Royal Bank up 44 cents to $58.18.
Among gold stocks, Barrick Gold Corp. gained 66 cents to $43.54.
Metal prices also advanced with May copper up three cents to $3.87 U.S. a pound. The base metals sector was up and Teck Resources rose 39 cents to $35.54.
The energy sector was up and Cenovus Energy gained two cents to $36.73.
The telecom sector was higher after Ottawa moved Wednesday to level the wireless playing field by placing limits on the coming wireless spectrum auction. It also lifted foreign-investment limits on small telecom firms in an effort to boost competition. Canada's wireless market is dominated by Telus, Rogers and Bell.
In earnings news, media company Quebecor Inc. reported that profits grew 83 per cent to $85.4 million or $1.34 per share in the fourth quarter led by strength in its telecommunications division. Adjusted income from continuing operations declined to $55.6 million in the fourth quarter, or 87 cents per share, falling short of analyst expectations for 89 cents per share, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters.
Quebecor also said that it's ready and able to move ahead with plans that would bring a National Hockey League team to Quebec City. Its shares dipped 37 cents to $35.93.
Tour operator Transat A.T. Inc. said quarterly losses grew to $29.5 million, or 77 cents per share, compared to a loss of $13.4 million, or 35 cents per share, a year earlier. On an adjusted basis, after-tax losses were 79 cents per share, higher than the 61 cents expected by analysts. Revenue increased to $829.3 million from $810.2 million and its shares were off 25 cents at $6.25.
Elsewhere on the corporate front, the Quebec securities regulator said it intends to approve a takeover offer for TMX Group Inc., the company that operates the Toronto Stock Exchange, by the Maple Group consortium of financial institutions. TMX Group shares rose $1.34 to $45.09.
In the economic docket, the Canadian Real Estate Association (CREA) said national resale housing activity improved 1.4% in February 2012 after having declined in January. CREA also said the number of newly listed homes climbed 1.9% from January to February.
The TSX Venture Exchange added 7.17 points to 1,601.52, while the Nasdaq Canada index moved 3.77 points higher to 414.34
All but one of the 14 Toronto subgroups were higher on the day. Consumer staples strengthened 1.6%, while industrials were 1.4% betterer, and financials were 1.1% to the good.
The lone laggard was in information technology stocks, sliding 0.1%
In New York, edged higher Thursday, with the S&P 500 topping the 1,400 mark for the first time in nearly four years, as investors digested a batch of better-than-expected economic news.
Reports showed that jobless claims are at the lowest level in four years, manufacturing activity continues to expand and inflation remains tame.
The Dow Jones Industrials gained 58.66 points Thursday to 13,252.80.
The S&P 500 tacked on 8.32 points to 1,402.60, while the Nasdaq picked up 15.64 points to 3,056.37.
All three major indexes are on track to post their best weekly gains since mid-January. The Dow, which is going for its seventh consecutive day of gains, has climbed more than 2.4% this week.
The S&P 500 and the Nasdaq have risen about 2.3%.
One expert also noted that March and April are seasonally very bullish months for stocks, so the recent strength is likely to continue. During the last five years, the S&P 500 has gained an average of 3% in March and 5% in April, he said.
Cisco Systems' shares slipped after the San Jose, Calif.-Internet connectivity company announced its $5-billion U.S. bid to buy NDS Group Ltd., a British provider of video software with 5,000 employees.
NDS is privately held by News Corp. and Permira.
Scholastic shares surged after the publishing company reported revenue of $468 million U.S., fueled by strong sales of its Hunger Games book series ahead of the film version's release next week. The results were much better than analysts had expected.
Discount retailer Ross Stores reported fiscal fourth-quarter results in line with analysts' expectations, sending shares slightly lower.
Capital One Financial shares rose after the company announced a $1.25-billion common stock offering on Wednesday to help finance its acquisition of HSBC's U.S. credit card business.
Apple jumped to touch an all-time high above the $600 U.S. per share benchmark in morning trading, but slipped into the red in the afternoon.
Demandware's stock jumped more than 50% in its stock market debut. The company priced 5.5 million shares at $16 U.S. per share in its initial public offering late Wednesday.
Bank stocks have been in focus this week following the results of the Federal Reserve's latest stress tests, which said a majority of the nation's largest banks would be able to weather another deep recession. Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have been the best performing stocks on the Dow on Thursday.
But the Fed said four institutions -- including Citigroup and Metlife -- would likely need to raise more capital in the event of a severe financial shock or economic downturn.
Economically speaking, initial unemployment claims for the week ended March 10 fell to 351,000, compared to 365,000 the prior week. That was slightly less than the forecast of 355,000, according to a survey of analysts by Briefing.com.
Producer prices for February increased 0.4%, which was slightly less than the expected increase of 0.5%. That's compared to January, when the PPI ticked up by 0.1%.
The Empire Manufacturing survey rose to 20.2 in March, much higher than the reading of 15 that analysts were expecting. The index was 19.5 in February.
The Philadelphia Fed's Business Outlook Survey index climbed in March to its highest level since last April at 12.5.
The price on the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury drooped a bit, pushing the yield up to 2.28% from 2.27% late Wednesday. Treasury prices and yields move in opposite directions.
Oil for February delivery dipped nine cents to $105.34 U.S. a barrel.
Gold futures for April delivery rose $16.60 to settle at $1,659.50 U.S. an ounce.