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TSX gains, traders eye Ukraine crisis; C$ rises, central bank leaves rate at 1%

TORONTO - Mining stocks helped give the Toronto stock market a modest lift Wednesday as investors continued to monitor the standoff between Russia and Ukraine and digested disappointing U.S. private sector employment data.

The S&P/TSX composite index climbed 14.31 points to 14,304.17.

The Canadian currency was ahead 0.51 of a cent to 90.6 cents US after the Bank of Canada announced it was leaving its key rate unchanged at one per cent.

U.S. indexes were mixed as payroll firm ADP reported the private sector created 139,000 jobs in February, short of the 160,000 that had been expected. Meanwhile, economists have been looking for Friday's government report to show that overall, about 150,000 net jobs were created in the public and private sectors last month.

The Dow Jones industrials lost 35.7 points to 16,360.18, the Nasdaq was six points higher at 4,357.97 and the S&P 500 index ticked 0.1 of a point lower to 1,873.81.

Meanwhile, the latest U.S. economic survey by the Federal Reserve told investors what they likely already knew: severe winter weather held back economic growth in much of the United States from January through early February. Even so, conditions improved in most U.S. regions, helped by slight gains in areas such as employment and commercial real estate.

It's been a volatile week after Russian troops invaded Ukraine's Crimean peninsula over the weekend. Russia has key military installations there and many people are Russian-speaking.

But markets calmed down Tuesday after President Vladimir Putin ordered Russian troops participating in military exercises near Ukraine’s border to return to their bases. He also said he hopes that Russia, which does not recognize the new Ukrainian leadership, won’t need to use force in eastern Ukraine.

Analysts continued to caution that there is still plenty of uncertainty surrounding the issue and that could impact markets further.

"What you saw yesterday is some hope (and) whether that hope is justified or not remains to be seen," said Paul Taylor, chief investment officer of fundamental Canadian equities at BMO Global Asset Management.

"It’s still not obvious how this will be played out in terms of finding a diplomatic face-saving solution for both sides."

Meanwhile, the European Union has proposed providing Ukraine with an 11-billion-euro aid package in loans and grants over the coming years.

The base metals sector led advancers, up 0.83 per cent with May copper one cent lower at $3.21 a pound.

The gold sector was ahead about 0.8 per cent while April bullion edged up $2.40 to US$1,340.30 an ounce.

Financials also lifted the TSX with the sector up 0.5 per cent.

But Laurentian Bank (TSX:LB) shares fell 58 cents to $45.92 after it posted adjusted earnings of $39.3 million or $1.29 per share compared with $39.1 million or $1.30 per share last year.

The energy sector led decliners, down 0.6 cent as April crude in New York declined $1.88 to US$101.45 a barrel.

Also, media company Torstar Corp. (TSX:TS.B) had $20.6 million or 26 cents a share of quarterly net income, little changed from a year earlier. Revenue was $366.5 million, down seven per cent from a year earlier, although the media division's revenue was up from the third quarter and its shares jumped 63 cents or 12.5 per cent to $5.67.

The Canadian Press

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