Canada’s main stock index ticked higher to outperform U.S. markets on Thursday, as a crude oil rally drove gains in the Canadian energy sector.
The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 83.93 points at 20,265.37. The energy-heavy index benefited from a second day of oil price gains, with the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate once again trading at above US$90 per barrel after sliding earlier in the week.
Fiera Capital portfolio manager Candice Bangsund said oil is rising in the wake of a bullish U.S. inventory report that is helping to calm fears about a potential economic slowdown and its impacts on energy demand.
Thursday’s comments from OPEC’s new secretary general Haitham Al Gais, in which he said spare production capacity was “becoming scarce” and predicted demand will increase by almost three million barrels per day this year, also provided a boost to crude markets.
On an individual stock basis, some of the biggest winners were Athabasca Oil Corp., which was up more than nine per cent on the day, and Tamarack Valley Energy Ltd., which was up more than six per cent.
“The energy sector was the top performing sector today and outperformed by a wide margin,” Bangsund said, pointing out the S&P/TSX capped energy index was up 2.66 per cent by the end of the day’s trading.
In New York, stock markets appeared to be “striving for direction” Thursday as investors weighed some mixed economic results and their implications for monetary policy, Bangsund said.
Thursday brought news that applications for U.S. employment insurance fell for the first time in three weeks, while the Philadelphia Fed survey of factory activity unexpectedly expanded in August for the first time in three months.
It also brought news that U.S. home sales fell for a sixth straight month in July, the latest sign that higher borrowing costs are weighing on the housing market.
“While stronger-than-expected economic data has helped to alleviate fears of a pronounced economic slowdown, it has also reinforced the case for further monetary policy tightening from the Federal Reserve,” Bangsund said.
While the pace of inflation in both Canada and the U.S. lessened slightly in July, it remains far higher than central bankers in both countries would like. In spite of a series of positive earnings reports from major retailers this week, investors remain concerned about inflation’s impact on businesses and consumers, as well as the risk that central banks will raise interest rates too aggressively and tip the economy into recession.
The Dow Jones industrial average closed up 18.72 points at 33,999.04. The S&P 500 index rose 0.2 per cent after shifting between small gains and losses for much of the day to close up 9.70 points at 4,283.74. The Nasdaq composite closed up 27.22 points at 12,965.34 as technology companies gained ground.
The U.S. dollar strengthened Thursday and is trading near its highest level since late July, potentially leaving the door open for the Federal Reserve to pursue its aggressive path of rate hikes, Bangsund said.
The Canadian dollar weakened even despite Thursday’s rally in crude prices, with underlying strength in the U.S. greenback pushing the loonie lower on the day. The Canadian dollar traded for 77.35 cents US compared with 77.45 cents US on Wednesday.
The October crude oil contract was up US$2.42 at US$90.11 per barrel and the September natural gas contract was down six cents at US$9.19 per mmBTU.
The December gold contract was down US$5.50 at US$1,771.20 an ounce and the September copper contract was up five cents at US$3.63 a pound.
Amanda Stephenson/The Canadian Press