Stocks head higher, Fed chairman reassures on need for low interest rates

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market and the loonie were sharply higher Thursday after U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke offered reassurances that stimulus measures aren't going away any time soon.

The S

The greenback weakened sharply following Bernanke's comments and the Canadian dollar surged 1.06 cents to 96.14 cents US after having soared as high as 96.84 cents US overnight.

U.S. indexes also took off as the comments from the Fed chief reassured investors dismayed by his remarks last month that the Fed would likely slow its bond purchases later this year and end them around mid-2014 if the American economy strengthened.

The Dow Jones industrials jumped 138.38 points to 15,430.04, the Nasdaq gained 41.16 points to 3,561.92 while the S

"Sit back and enjoy the bull market," said Ron Meisels, president of Phases + Cycles in Montreal.

"There is still a lot of money on the sidelines ready to buy bargains. And there are still bargains in New York and Toronto."

The Fed has been buying $85 billion of financial assets a month to keep interest rates low and encourage borrowing and spending. That stimulus has driven global stocks higher, so the prospect of reducing it has caused market volatility in recent weeks.

Bernanke’s latest comments came after the release of minutes from the Fed's most recent meeting showed that about half of the Fed’s 19-member policy-making committee supported an end to the bond-buying program late this year.

But many also agreed at the meeting last month that the job market’s improvement would have to be sustained before the Fed would reduce the purchases.

The meeting was held prior to the release of a stronger-than-expected U.S. employment report for June, which came out last Friday.

Gold prices shot up following Bernanke's comments, with the August contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange ahead $32.60 to US$1,280 an ounce.

Gold prices have enjoyed a sharp increase in recent years as a result of quantitative easing by the Fed and other central banks worldwide because QE involves printing more money to finance bond purchases. But price have fallen sharply in the weeks since Bernanke initially indicated that the Fed could move towards tapering those purchases.

The gold sector was the leading TSX advancer on Thursday, up 4.1 per cent as Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) rose 74 cents to C$15.43 while Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) climbed $1.02 to $26.37.

The sector is the worst performer by far on the TSX but has come off the worst declines of the year recently.

"It might be coming to a point here when it will start finding some support, just above this place because probably the selling has been overdone," Meisels said.

The lower dollar also helped boost metal prices with September copper ahead eight cents to US$3.17 a pound.

The lower U.S. dollar lifted commodities because a weaker greenback makes it less expensive for holders of other currencies to buy oil and metals, which are dollar-denominated.

The base metals component climbed 3.13 per cent while First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) advanced 55 cents to C$16.23 and Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) improved by $1.05 to $22.89.

The energy group was ahead 0.85 per cent even as the August crude contract on the Nymex backed off $1.78 to US$104.74 a barrel after the International Energy Agency said that production from countries outside the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries would rise by 1.3 million barrels a day next year.

Prices had closed at a 15-month high Wednesday after the American Petroleum Institute said that U.S. crude inventories fell by nine million barrels last week, much higher than the 3.8-million-barrel drop that analysts had expected.

Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) was up 51 cents to C$32.17 while Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) advanced 63 cents to $33.30.

Financials rose 0.3 per cent as Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) climbed 53 cents to $62.73.

Telecoms were also supportive as Telus Corp. (TSX:T) gained 39 cents to $31.83.

On the earnings front, Quebec-based cable company Cogeco Cable (TSX:CCA), reported its third-quarter revenue increased 45.3 per cent to $464.5 million from $319.8 million in the same 2012 period. Profit declined fractionally to $53.05 million, or $1.08 per diluted share, from $53.12 million or $1.09 per share in the prior-year period and its shares gained $2.676 to $49.20.

Corus Entertainment Inc. (TSX:CJR.B) said that its quarterly net income was $89.9 million or $1.07 per diluted share, up from $43.2 million or 51 cents a year ago, largely as a result of a gain from the sale of its non-controlling interest in Food Network Canada for $55.4 million.

Ex-items, earnings were $34.5 million or 41 cents per share, down from $43.2 million or 52 cents a year earlier. Revenue was $200.1 million, down from $204.1 million. Corus also reduced its full-year guidance on profit and its shares fell $1.47 or 5.94 per cent to $23.28.

European bourses advanced with London's FTSE 100 index up 0.58 per cent, Frankfurt's DAX ahead 1.13 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 up 0.67 per cent.