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Loonie up amid data showing lower foreign exposure to bonds, rising commodities

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TORONTO - The loonie closed higher Tuesday amid data showing that foreign investors reduced their holdings of Canadian securities in December, mainly in Canadian dollar-denominated bonds.

The commodity-sensitive Canadian currency was up 0.27 of a cent to 91.32 cents US from Friday's close amid rising prices for oil and metals. Canadian banks and North American stock markets were closed Monday for holidays.

Statistics Canada reported that foreign investors cut their holdings of Canadian securities by $4.3 billion in December — a month when the Canadian dollar depreciated against its U.S. counterpart and hit its lowest level since August 2010.

The agency also noted that "the differential between Canadian long- and short-term interest rates continued to widen, as long-term rates were up further while short-term rates eased."

Traders also took in data that illustrated how the U.S. economy is being impacted by severe winter weather.

The Empire State Manufacturing Index for February — a snapshot of manufacturing activity in the U.S. Northeast — declined to a worse than expected reading of 4.48 in February, down from 12.5 in January.

And the National Association of Home Builders' housing market index tumbled 10 points to 46. Economists had expected a flat showing. But the NAHB also reported that its buyer traffic index fell nine points to 31 as fewer prospective buyers felt like braving severe winter conditions in many parts of the U.S. The index had drifted slightly lower in recent months because of a sharp rise in mortgage rates.

Traders also looked to new stimulus measures from the Japanese government and awaited U.S. manufacturing and housing data.

The Bank of Japan plans to top up its monetary stimulus by doubling the size of its fund to support bank lending and its fund to support economic growth.

The funds, which were due to expire shortly, were extended for another year after fourth-quarter economic growth fell short of forecasts despite massive fiscal and monetary stimulus intended to engineer a recovery.

Commodity markets racked up gains as the March crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained $2.13 to US$102.43 a barrel.

March copper was up two cents to US$3.29 a pound while April gold bullion rose $5.80 to US$1,324.40 an ounce.

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