TSX registers small advance as oil prices move higher

TORONTO — The Toronto stock market closed modestly higher Wednesday as investors tried to mount a relief rally after two days of punishing losses sparked by a collapse in oil prices to below US$50 a barrel and worries about the effects of such a decline.But the rally largely fizzled as the S&P/TSX composite index came down from a 180-point run-up early in the morning to close up 38.23 points at 14,285, regaining little of the more than 500-point plunge over the previous two sessions.The steady decline in gains during the session didn’t surprise Kash Pashootan, portfolio manager at First Avenue Advisory in Ottawa, a Raymond James company.“On a day like today you see the investor (has) confidence in the overall market through this relief rally,” Pashootan said, adding investors need “some sort of longer-term direction in terms of where (oil) supply is going.”“I don’t see how anyone can really pick a bottom without it being pure speculation until we get some clarity and direction from oil supply cuts.”The Canadian dollar closed up 0.05 of a cent at 84.6 cents US amid data showing falling oil exports increased the Canadian trade deficit in November.U.S. indexes were higher as the release of the minutes from last month’s U.S. Federal Reserve meeting reassured investors that the central bank likely will not raise rates sooner than generally expected, which is around the middle of this year. On an upbeat note, the minutes also said that the Fed sees foreign weakness as a risk to the U.S. economy but expects the huge drop in oil prices to be positive.The Dow Jones industrials jumped 212.88 points to 17,584.52, the Nasdaq climbed 57.73 points to 4,650.47 and the S&P 500 index was up 23.29 points at 2,025.9.Most of the positive TSX action came from non-resource sectors that have been beaten down recently — the consumer discretionary component up 1.4% and telcos ahead 1.25%.But the TSX financial and industrial sectors lost early momentum.And the energy sector continued to pile up losses and gave back another 0.55% even as oil prices stabilized for the moment. The February crude contract in New York climbed 72 cents to US$48.65 a barrel as data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration showed that U.S. crude inventories declined by 3.1 million barrels last week. Analysts had expected supplies to increase by 380,000 barrels.Prices have plunged 55% since the highs of last June. Markets are dealing with an overabundance of supply, made worse by OPEC’s refusal to cut production to support prices.Traders have become reluctant to speculate on where a bottom for prices is but on Wednesday, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch warned that the sharp drop in prices could prompt Saudi Arabia and other petro-states into cutting production.“We see a growing risk of WTI (West Texas Intermediate) and Brent falling to $35 and $40 per barrel near term to force either non-OPEC producers or Saudi to cut,” it said.The gold sector faded 1.5% as gold prices backed off after charging ahead the previous three sessions as investors shunned riskier assets. The February contract faded $8.70 to US$1,210.70 an ounce.The base metals group declined one% while March copper drifted a penny lower to US$2.76 a pound. Meanwhile, two days before the release of the government’s employment report for December, payroll firm ADP reported that the private sector created 241,000 jobs last month. Economists expect that a total of 240,000 jobs were created, down from 321,000 in November. read more