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TSX closes higher amid Ukraine ceasefire hopes, traders look to economic data

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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed higher Wednesday as markets hoped a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine will take hold.

The S&P/TSX composite index advanced 38.55 points to a record high close of 15,657.63.

The Canadian dollar rose 0.35 of a cent to 91.84 cents US as the Bank of Canada said it was leaving its key rate unchanged at one per cent. Markets generally expect the central bank to start upping rates around the middle of next year.

U.S. indexes were tepid even as the latest snapshot on the economy by the U.S. Federal Reserve showed that the American economy strengthened in all regions in July and August. However, the so-called Beige Book found no clear evidence that the economy is expanding so fast that the Fed might soon need to begin raising interest rates to cool inflation.

The Dow Jones industrials gained 10.72 points to 17,078.28, while the Nasdaq slipped 25.62 points to 4,572.57 amid a four per cent slump in Apple shares. Its rival, Samsung, introduced Galaxy smartphones with displays aimed at quick access to frequently used applications. Analysts expect Apple to unveil new iPhones with bigger screens next week.

The S&P 500 index slipped 1.56 points to 2,000.72.

There was cautious relief on the markets after Russia and Ukraine said Wednesday they are working on a deal to halt months of fighting in eastern Ukraine

However, there have been previous statements of agreements on steps for peace, but the conflict has only intensified.

"This is Russia and this is Ukraine talking," said Ben Jang, portfolio manager at Nicola Wealth Management in Vancouver.

"This is not the leaders for the rebels — so can Russia negotiate for the rebels? That’s the real question."

Still, a ceasefire would be welcome for a variety of reasons, including the possibility that sanctions against Russia would be cancelled, which would in turn be good for the Europe, where growth has stalled and price pressures are so weak that deflation is a major worry.

Meanwhile, the financial costs of the tensions between Ukraine and Russia were highlighted in the latest business activity gauge for the eurozone from financial information company Markit. Its purchasing managers' index fell to 52.5 points in August from July’s three-month high of 53.8.

Investors are looking to Thursday and the latest announcement on interest rates from the European Central Bank. But markets are particularly interested in what ECB president Mario Draghi has to say about whether the ECB will inject further stimulus into the economy.

Traders were also cautious ahead of the release Friday of the U.S. government's employment report for August. Economists forecast that the American economy created about 220,000 jobs last month.

Most TSX sectors were positive, paced by a 1.5 per cent rise in the base metals component even as December copper declined three cents to US$3.13 a pound.

Financials also provided lift, up 0.4 per cent.

December bullion rose $5.30 to US$1,270.30 an ounce but the gold sector faded 0.7 per cent.

The energy sector was off 0.1 per cent as October crude gained $2.66 to US$95.54 a barrel after tumbling $3 on Tuesday.

In corporate developments, convenience store and gasoline station operator Alimentation Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) reported its quarterly net income rose 5.7 per cent to $269.5 million or 47 cents a share. It also announced that it's increasing its quarterly shareholder dividend by half a cent to 4.5 cents per share, and its shares ran ahead $2.22 to $35.45.

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