Canada’s main stock index kicked off the month on a tentative positive note, edging higher Wednesday on strong economic numbers out of China even as worries about future rate hikes in North America tamp down market enthusiasm following a tough February.
The S&P/TSX composite index rose 38.59 points to close at 20,259.78, as energy and metals sector gains outweighed losses in financial and technology indexes.
U.S. stock markets struggled Wednesday, as the Dow Jones industrial average inched up 5.14 points to 32,661.84. The S&P 500 index dropped 18.76 points to 3,951.39, while the Nasdaq composite fell 76.06 points to 11,379.48.
The Canadian dollar traded for 73.46 cents US compared with 73.48 cents US on Tuesday.
“The sizable news that got the day kicked off was some good data in China,” said Mike Archibald, vice-president and portfolio manager with AGF Investments Inc.
After a swift lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, the world’s second-largest economy posted its biggest manufacturing increase in over a decade, while services also grew and the housing market began to stabilize, according to February figures from China’s National Bureau of Statistics.
“As a result, you’ve seen a pretty sharp uptick in a number of the commodities sectors and stocks — copper, energy, gold to a little lesser degree,” Archibald said.
“What that’s also done is obviously move up growth expectations a little bit globally.”
Back home, despite solid earnings Wednesday from two more of the country’s Big Six banks — National Bank and Royal Bank of Canada — underlying trends made investors think twice about the sector.
“Broader loan growth is certainly starting to slow, which is no real surprise, just given the uncertainty around where the economy is going to evolve over the coming couple of quarters,” Archibald said. Costs have also come in higher than expected at some banks, putting additional pressure on some.
Investors have been worrying for months about the possibility of recession in the wake of a series of rapid interest rate hikes by central banks last year. But in spite of predictions by economists that an economic downturn is likely this year, reports on everything from the job market to consumer spending to inflation itself have come in firmer than expected over the last few weeks.
All of that hotter-than-expected economic data has been bad news for stock markets, as it signals that central bankers — in particular, the influential U.S. Federal Reserve — are not getting control of inflation as quickly as they would like.
“That probably means there are going to be more rate hikes, because the economy’s acting more resilient than some people have thought,” said Archibald, noting an eventual recession could still eat into corporate earnings and weigh on the equities market.
The April crude contract was up 64 cents at US$77.69 per barrel and the April natural gas contract was up six cents at US$2.81 per mmBTU.
The April gold contract was up US$8.70 at US$1,845.40 an ounce and the May copper contract was up seven cents at US$4.16 a pound.
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