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Toronto stock market closes little changed, Royal Bank posts strong earnings

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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed little changed Wednesday amid positive earnings reports from Royal Bank (TSX:RY) and a couple of big retailers.

The S&P/TSX composite index had been higher for most of the session but closed down 0.4 of a point at 14,188.58 amid losses in gold and energy stocks. The Canadian dollar dropped 0.34 of a cent to 89.86 cents US.

U.S. indexes registered minor gains after sales of new homes in the United States rebounded in January to the fastest pace in more than five years

The Dow Jones industrial average climbed 18.75 points to 16,198.41 after the Commerce Department said sales of new homes increased 9.6 per cent in January to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 468,000.

It came as a surprise to economists, who had been forecasting a sales drop in January of around four per cent, in part because of a belief that activity would be held back by winter storms in many parts of the country.

The Nasdaq was up 4.47 points to 4,292.06 while the S&P 500 index added 0.04 a point to 1,845.16.

Royal Bank's (TSX:RY) quarterly net income was up two per cent from a year ago to $2.09 billion or $1.38 a share. Ex-items, RBC earned $1.47 a share, which was above estimates. The bank also announced its quarterly dividend will increase by six per cent to 71 cents per common share. Its shares slipped 61 cents to $72.09 but RBC stock had already charged ahead 5.5 per cent this month.

"They’re very well run and they’re the envy of the world but with that dominant position comes some fairly full valuations," observed Stephen Lingard, managing director at Franklin Templeton Solutions.

Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) and National Bank (TSX:NA) also issued earnings reports this week that beat expectations.

The earnings news was mixed in the retailing segment as Sears Canada Inc. (TSX:SCC) had a $373.7-million net profit in its fiscal fourth quarter, up from $39.9 million a year earlier. But the showing was largely due to gains from unusual items, including early lease terminations for some large stores that are closing. Its shares rose 32 cents to $13.62.

Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT) says a massive data breach over the holidays helped push its quarterly profit down 46 per cent to $520 million or 81 cents a share, beating estimates by a penny. Revenue fell to $21.5 billion from $22.7 billion, meeting expectations, and its shares ran ahead $3.98 or 7.04 per cent to $60.49 in New York.

On the TSX, tech stocks led advancers with Davis + Henderson (TSX:DH) ahead $1.65 to $30.70. But BlackBerry (TSX:BB) fell 25 cents to $11.48.

BlackBerry stock had surged about 18 per cent since Feb. 17 on rising investor confidence and ran up sharply earlier this week after CEO John Chen unveiled two smartphones at the Mobile World Congress trade fair in Barcelona.

The base metals group was up almost one per cent with March copper off a cent at US$3.24 a pound.

The gold sector dropped about one per cent as April bullion fell $14.70 to US$1,328 an ounce.

The energy sector was down 0.34 per cent with the April crude contract in New York up 76 cents to US$102.59 a barrel.

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