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Stock markets end higher with US manufacturing numbers leading optimism

TORONTO - Investors found more reason to push stock markets higher on Tuesday, driven by some mildly encouraging data on the economy and recent U.S. Federal Reserve comments.

Toronto's S&P/TSX composite index ended the session ahead 45.24 points to 14,380.55, while the Canadian dollar climbed 0.19 of a cent at 90.65 cents US.

Much of the momentum was evident on U.S. markets as well, pushed by an increase in manufacturing activity last month.

The U.S. Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index rose to 53.7 in March, up from 53.2 in February, as factories continued to rev up following the severe winter storms earlier this year.

Separately, the Commerce Department said construction spending rose by 0.1 per cent in February, after falling by 0.2 per cent in January. That number was in line with investors' expectations.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials added 74.95 points to 16,532.61 and the Nasdaq lifted 69.05 points to 4,268.04.

The S&P 500 index finished at a new record high, up 13.18 points to 1,885.52.

New data from the Royal Bank suggested that Canadian exports are leading an improvement in domestic business conditions. The RBC Canadian Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index registered 53.3 in March, the 12th consecutive month that the PMI has indicated expansion.

"Overall investors are in a good place, or at least in a better place, now," said Allan Small, a senior adviser at Holliswealth.

"The returns of last year were quite good for many investors here in Canada and in the U.S. I think it's a lot more positive now."

Small said he expects stock markets to continue on the current trajectory at least until Friday when U.S. and Canadian jobs figures for March, which he says will be the next catalyst, are released.

Comments from U.S. Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen on Monday have also given investors a better idea of a road map for the economy. Yellen said she thinks the struggling U.S. job market will continue to need the help of low interest rates "for some time."

Yellen had raised concerns that U.S. interest rates may begin to rise sooner than expected when she suggested last month that the Fed could start raising short-term rates six months after it halts its bond purchases. Most economists expect the quantitative easing program to end this year.

In commodities, the May crude delivery on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped below $100, closing down $1.84 at US$99.74 a barrel.

May copper ended less than a penny higher at US$3.03 a pound while June bullion continued its decline for the fifth straight session. Gold was down $3.80 to US$1,280 an ounce.

TSX consumer discretionary stocks were the biggest gainers, with Martinrea Intl. (TSX:MRE) rising 8.3 per cent to $10.80 after it announced on Monday it would begin the hunt for a new president and chief executive officer to replace Nick Orlando. Its stock gained nearly 14 per cent on Monday.

Meanwhile, two Western Canadian oil companies are preparing to combine their businesses. Surge Energy Inc. (TSX:SGY) is offering to buy Longview Oil Corp. (TSX:LNV) in a mostly stock deal that the companies value at $429 million, including assumed debt.

Surge shares fell 12 cents to $6.02 while Longview gained 28 cents to $5.77.

The Canadian Press


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