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TSX little changed, European Central Bank moves to bolster eurozone recovery

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed little changed Thursday as the European Central Bank moved to deal with the threat of deflation and give some lift to a tepid economic recovery.

The S&P/TSX composite index edged 3.39 points higher to 14,800.18 as the ECB announced that it's cutting its lending rate to 0.15 per cent from 0.25 per cent. It is also dropping its overnight deposit rate to minus 0.1 per cent from zero. Charging banks for parking funds with the ECB is an unusual step aimed at pushing banks to lend that money rather than hoard it.

The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.08 of a cent to 91.5 cents US.

It was a record-breaking day on Wall Street as ECB president Mario Draghi also said the bank will offer long-term loans to banks at cheap rates until 2018, which gives banks confidence they have cheap funding for the next few years. Draghi said the ECB’s policymakers unanimously agreed to consider more unconventional measures to boost inflation if it stays too low.

Both the Dow Jones industrials and the S&P closed at record highs. The Dow gained 98.58 points to 16,836.11 while the S&P jumped 12.58 points to 1,940.46. While the Nasdaq did not hit a record, the index still ran up 44.59 points or about one per cent to 4,296.23.

It had been widely expected that the ECB would take action to save the eurozone region from falling into a deflationary spiral that would choke off growth. Worries about deflation increased earlier this week with the release of data showing that inflation in the eurozone came in at 0.5 per cent in May, down from 0.7 per cent in April.

"I don’t know that it was a big surprise... what they’re doing certainly seems appropriate given the overall economic backdrop," said Tim Caulfield, co-Lead manager of the Franklin Bissett Canadian Equity Fund in Calgary.

"The focus now will be on the non-farm payrolls number tomorrow (Friday) to give us a sense for how things are progressing in the U.S."

Economists have forecast that about 219,000 jobs were created during May in the U.S., following a much stronger than expected 288,000 gain in April.

Doubts about reaching that figure were raised Wednesday after payroll firm ADP reported that the U.S. private sector created 179,000 jobs during May, the fewest number in four months.

Canadian job figures for May also come out Friday and economists expect about 21,000 jobs were created after the economy shed 29,000 the previous month.

In commodities, the gold sector led advancers, up 1.5 per cent as August bullion erased early losses following the ECB announcement to climb $9 to US$1,253.30 an ounce. Traders think that the ECB might launch its own version of quantitative easing to stimulate the economy, which involves buying assets such as bonds.

The base metals group was down 0.24 per cent, while July copper unchanged at US$3.08 a pound.

The TSX energy sector dipped 0.09 per cent while June crude in New York shed 16 cents to US$102.48 a barrel.

In corporate news, Just Energy Group Inc. (TSX:JE) sold its water heater and HVAC home services business to Reliance Comfort Limited Partnership for $505 million. Just Energy says it's also cutting its dividend and will repay about $400 million in debt. Its shares rose 40 cents to $6.55.

Saputo (TSX:SAP), the country’s largest cheese and dairy processor, posted quarterly earnings ex-items of $151.9 million or 78 cents per diluted share, four cents better than analyst forecasts. The Canadian division’s pre-tax operating profits (EBITDA) decreased 8.6 per cent to $108.9 million and its shares dipped 14 cents to $58.95.

The Canadian Press

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