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TSX up as Fed minutes indicate no rush to hike rates, dissension on job growth

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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed higher Wednesday as traders got some reassurance about interest rates from the minutes of the latest meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 84.78 points to 15,561.95. The Canadian dollar was down 0.23 a cent at 91.15 cents US as the greenback strengthened after the release of the minutes.

Most U.S. markets finished higher as the minutes indicated that the U.S. central bank is in no rush to hike rates. However, they also showed greater dissension among Fed members on how fast the labour market is improving, a key element in determining when it will raise rates from near zero, where they've been since the financial crisis.

The Dow Jones industrials gained 59.54 points to 16,979.13, the Nasdaq declined 1.03 points to 4,526.48 and the S&P 500 index climbed 4.91 points at 1,986.51.

The Fed has emphasized that economic data, not the calendar, will determine when it hikes rates, generally expected around the middle of 2015.

Slack in the labour market has been a particular concern, a topic that Fed chairwoman Janet Yellen is expected to address in her speech to the central bank's economic symposium at the end of the week.

"We’re looking to confirm the Fed’s accommodative stance and give us a bit of insight on how they think about the slack in the labour market," said Patrick Blais, managing director and portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management.

While U.S. job growth has been coming in at around 200,000 monthly, the participation rate has drifted down to a percentage in the lows 60s.

"And, in the back of their mind, they want to play safe and make sure the U.S. is on a real sustainable footing before giving any indication that they’re going to retreat from their easy monetary policy stance," Blais said.

Traders also digested a mixed bag of data from the retail sector.

Sears Canada Inc. (TSX:SCC) reported a quarterly net loss of $21.3 million, or 21 cents per share, compared with a profit of $152.8 million, or $1.50, a year ago. Same-store sales dropped 6.8 per cent, which the company attributed partly to an unseasonably cool spring. Its shares shed 12 cents to $15.95.

U.S. retailer Target, which is in the midst of a costly expansion into Canada, posted adjusted earnings of 78 cents a share, a penny less than expected. Revenue came in at US$17.41 billion, higher than the US$17.38 billion that analysts expected. Its shares erased early losses to advance $1.09 to US$60.34 as Target also cut its 2014 earnings forecast to between US$3.10 and US$3.30 a share, versus the previous forecast of US$3.49.

Quarterly net income at home improvement retailer Lowe's increased 10 per cent to US$1.04 billion, or $1.04 per share, bolstered by improving weather. The performance beat analysts' expectations, but the company lowered its full-year revenue outlook slightly. Its shares were up 80 cents at US$52.32.

The metals and mining sector led advancers, up two per cent as September copper shot up nine cents to US$3.18 a pound. Some analysts attributed the jump to signs of a rebound in the U.S. housing sector, including strong data on housing starts and solid improvement in a prominent builders' confidence survey.

The energy gained 0.7 per cent with the September crude contract — which expires Wednesday — surging $1.59 to US$96.07 a barrel. The October contract climbed 59 cents to US$93.45. Prices shot up as data showed a drop in U.S. supplies of about 4.5 million barrels last week, about three times the amount that had been expected.

The gold sector edged up about 0.15 per cent as December bullion dipped $1.50 to US$1,295.20 an ounce.

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