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Toronto stock market advances amid earnings, positive U.S. manufacturing reading

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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed with a solid advance Thursday as investors weighed mixed manufacturing data and concentrated on well-received earnings from Canadian corporate heavyweights, including grocer Loblaw (TSX:L) and coffee chain Tim Hortons (TSX:THI).

The S&P/TSX composite index ran ahead 90.64 points to 14,210.37.

The Canadian dollar fell 0.14 of a cent to 90.1 cents US.

New York's Dow industrials gained 92.67 points to 16,133.23, the Nasdaq climbed 29.6 points to 4,267.55 while the S&P 500 index added 11.03 points to 1,839.78.

HSBC’s preliminary version of its monthly China purchasing managers’ index dipped to a seven-month low of 48.3 from January’s 49.5. Numbers below 50 show activity contracting.

But a survey by Markit showed that manufacturing in the U.S. expanded at the fastest pace in almost four years in February. Its Flash U.S. Manufacturing index rose to 56.7 from 53.7 in January.

Also, the Conference Board’s leading indicator, a measure of future growth, posted a moderate gain in January, suggesting the economy will continue to expand in the first half of this year.

The gold sector led TSX advancers, up about 4.5 per cent while April bullion fell $3.50 to US$1,316.90 an ounce.

Facebook, the world’s biggest social network, announced a US$19- billion purchase of the popular messaging service WhatsApp late Wednesday. Facebook shares ticked $1.57 higher to US$69.63.

Wes Mills, chief investment officer Scotia Private Client Group, said the Facebook deal was another example of increased merger and acquisition activity, a very positive sign for markets.

"We are seeing tons of M&A, it’s almost every day now or every week" and "that shows that CEOs are confident," Mills said.

The TSX tech sector rose per cent as BlackBerry (TSX:BB) gained 41 cents or 4.1 per cent to $10.41 as the Facebook deal raised optimism that there is value in the smartphone maker's messaging service.

The consumer staples sector was up two per cent as Loblaw reported $183 million or 65 cents per share of quarterly adjusted net earnings, which was 10 cents above estimates. Revenue was up 2.3 per cent to $7.64 billion, also better than expected and its shares climbed $2.01 or 4.75 per cent to $44.29.

Tim Hortons posted net earnings of 69 cents a share, up from 65 cents a year ago but below analyst estimates of 77 cents. Revenue was up 10.7 per cent to $898.5 million. The company also said it was raising its quarterly dividend by about 23 per cent and its shares gained $1.04 or 1.79 per cent to $58.98.

The base metals segment was up 0.16 per cent with March copper shedding a penny to US$3.28 a pound.

The utilities sector led decliners, down 0.56 per cent.

TransCanada (TSX:TRP) said Thursday that its quarterly net income was $420 million or 59 cents per share, missing estimates by a penny. It also raised its quarterly dividend by four per cent to 48 cents a share and its shares declined $1.07 to $48.83.

The pipeline company's Keystone XL project suffered a major setback in a Nebraska court Wednesday as a judge overturned a state law that could have forced landowners to allow the pipeline through their property.

The energy sector was off 0.13 per cent as the March crude contract in New York slipped 39 cents to US$102.92 a barrel.

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