TSX little changed amid weak commodity prices, strong earnings data

TORONTO – The Toronto stock market was lower Wednesday, pressured by resource stocks as oil and gold prices fell. However, investors were encouraged by strong earnings results.

The S&P/TSX composite index gave back 54.71 points to 14,779.17.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.27 of a cent to 80.35 cents US.

U.S. indexes were mixed as the Dow industrials climbed 20.04 points to 17,407.25, the Nasdaq climbed 12.65 points to 4,694.15 while the S&P 500 index slipped 0.11 of a point to 2,029.44.

Traders also focused on the U.S. Federal Reserve, which will make its scheduled interest rate announcement mid-afternoon. Markets have generally expected the Fed to hike around the middle of this year. But given recent global economic downgrades, analysts say it’s very possible the Fed could move much later.

Canadian National Railway’s (TSX:CNR) quarterly profit surged by nearly a third to $ 844 million. That amounted to $ 1.03 per share, six cents ahead of estimates. Revenue was up nearly 17 per cent at $ 3.2 billion, beating estimates of $ 3.12 billion. CN’s operating ratio improved as it declined 4.1 points to 60.7 per cent. CN also boosted its quarterly dividend 25 per cent to $ 1.25 a share and its stock headed up a modest 52 cents to $ 85.68.

“When you look at rails and run they had, it is unrealistic to expect any significant upside unless there is an unforeseen growth catalyst,” said Kash Pashootan, portfolio manager at Raymond James in Ottawa.

“Relative to the volatility we have seen in markets and relative to what we’ve seen in their peer group . . . I think investors should be happy with that.”

And Apple’s quarterly net income rose 38 per cent to $ 18 billion or $ 3.06 a share while revenue hit $ 74.6 billion as it sold 74.5 million iPhones, which also beat estimates. Analysts were expecting earnings of $ 2.60 a share on revenue of $ 67.39 billion. Its shares were up 6.75 per cent to US$ 117.62.

In Canada, CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) says it had $ 236.3 million or 74 cents a share of quarterly net income, up from 60 cents per share or $ 189.8 million a year earlier. Cash generated from CGI’s operating activities increased more than five-fold to $ 339.2 million and its shares ran ahead $ 2.71 or 5.8 per cent to $ 49.63.

Oil prices retreated with March crude down $ 1.08 to US$ 45.15 a barrel. Prices fell after the American Petroleum Institute said that crude supplies in the U.S. rose 13 million barrels last week, a much higher level than the 3.5 million barrels expected by analysts.

Prices have plunged 55 per cent from the highs registered last summer because of a glut of supply on world markets.

The TSX energy sector fell 2.1 per cent as Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) lowered its 2015 capital budget to between C$ 1.8 billion and $ 2 billion because of the price slump. That figure is more than 15 per cent below last year’s spending levels. Its stock dropped 81 cents to $ 23.86.

The gold sector fell 1.1 per cent while February bullion declined $ 3.80 to US$ 1,287.90 an ounce.

March copper edged two cents higher to US$ 2.48 a pound on top of an eight-cent tumble in the previous session and the base metals group was down 0.3 per cent.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. A previous version had the wrong day of the week

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