The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Energy stocks push TSX higher, traders look ahead to bank earnings, growth data

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TORONTO - Rising energy stocks helped push the Toronto stock market modestly higher Monday while investors looked to an upcoming heavy slate of earnings results from the big Canadian banks.

The S&P/TSX composite index advanced 21.36 points to 14,227.08, with gains limited by base metal miners amid fresh concerns over the Chinese property market.

The Canadian dollar gained 0.54 of a cent to 90.36 cents US.

Stocks resumed rallying in New York following a slight dip last week with the Dow Jones industrials ahead 105.83 points to 16,209.13. The Nasdaq climbed 29.56 points to 4,292.97 and the S&P 500 index rose 11.46 points to 1,847.71, just a point shy of its finish at the end of 2013.

National Bank (TSX:NA) kicked off earnings reports among Canada's big banks after markets closed with results that beat expectations. Canada's sixth-largest bank said net income in the three months ended Jan. 31 totalled $405 million or $1.15 per diluted share, up from $373 million or $1.05 per share in the same 2013 period.

Ex-items, earnings were $384 million or $1.09 per share, up 12 per cent from $344 million or 97 cents in the same year-earlier period and well the average analyst estimate of $1.05 per share, as compiled by Thomson Reuters. National Bank shares had closed up 11 cents at $43.61 on Monday.

All the big banks registered record annual profits last year but analysts believe this year will be more challenging amid a fading housing market.

"I think that they will continue to provide solid results (but) I don’t think we will get big earnings beats out of them," said Craig Fehr, Canadian markets specialist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.

"The demand environment for personal lending is an area where we see lower mortgage demand, slower demand for personal lines of credit."

The April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange added 62 cents to US$102.82 a barrel, lifted in part by a closely-watched survey that showed German business sentiment at its highest level in two and a half years and the energy group gained 0.75 per cent.

The tech sector was up 0.23 per cent with BlackBerry (TSX:BB) up 70 cents or 6.88 per cent to $10.87 amid a report from Bloomberg that automaker Ford will base its next-generation Sync system on the smartphone maker’s QNX and no longer use Microsoft’s Windows. Ford has been struggling with in-car technology flaws and has more than seven million vehicles on the road with Sync using Microsoft voice-activated software.

The gold sector gained about 0.15 per cent as the April bullion contract rose $14.40 to US$1,338 an ounce, its highest close in almost four months.

Meanwhile, figures showed that average new home prices in China’s 70 major cities rose 9.6 per cent in the year to January, down from the 9.9 per cent rise recorded in December. It was the first slowdown since November 2012 and has added to fears that the banks are beginning to tighten lending and that could mean Chinese growth falters.

The base metals segment led decliners, down almost one per cent as copper prices fell two cents to US$3.27 a pound following the release of the Chinese housing data.

In the U.S., eBay rose 3.13 per cent to US$56.30 after the activist shareholder Carl Icahn disclosed a two per cent stake in the company. Icahn is looking to replace several members of eBay’s board of directors.

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