Markets positive as Canadian dollar and oil gain on last trading day before Christmas

TORONTO — Hopes for better times in 2021 drove North American stock markets to positive results as an abbreviated trading day ended at 1 p.m. ET on Christmas Eve.

In Toronto, the S&P/TSX composite index closed up 30.31 points at 17,623.88 while the loonie and oil and metals prices climbed.

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American stock market investors ignored outgoing President Donald Trump’s threat not to sign a major pandemic economic stimulus package approved by Congress this week, allowing the Dow Jones industrial average to rise 70.04 points at 30,199.87.

In keeping with the sentiment, the S&P 500 index also rose 13.05 points at 3,703.06 and the Nasdaq composite was up 33.62 points at 12,804.73.

"The attitude is that the year is pretty much done and, with that, we're looking into 2021, where the environment is going to be much better, so that's really what it is," said Philip Petursson, chief investment strategist at Manulife Investment Management.

"What happens today doesn't really matter for what people are thinking about for 2021."

Investors are encouraged by ongoing news of deliveries and approvals of vaccines to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the upcoming changeover in the White House and, although it doesn't influence North American markets much, the announcement of a post-Brexit trade deal between Britain and the European Union, he said.

"We think this is what the markets are really taking to heart, it might not be better in a week's time or two weeks time, but if you start to look three months, six months, nine months down the road, we are going to be in a much better situation economically and in terms of COVID," said Petursson.

The Canadian dollar traded for 77.91 cents US compared with 77.78 cents US on Wednesday.

The February crude oil contract was up seven cents at US$48.19 per barrel and the February natural gas contract was down four cents at US$2.55 per mmBTU.

The February gold contract was up US$5.10 at US$1,883.20 an ounce and the March copper contract was up one cent at US$3.56 a pound.

Statistics Canada reported Wednesday that real gross domestic product grew 0.4 per cent in October, marking the sixth consecutive month of growth and slightly beating the average economist estimate. A preliminary estimate for November showed a 0.4 per cent expansion.

"I think the data continues to be surprising to the upside on the economy," said Petursson. "The Canadian economy in particular has been a little bit more resilient than what was originally thought and I think that's going to continue in the first quarter."

The rise in the S&P/TSX composite was broad-based with eight of 11 sectors posting increases but none exceeding one per cent.

Information technology posted the best gains, led by wireless communication equipment designer Sierra Wireless Inc., up almost five per cent.

Utilities were close behind, led by TransAlta Corp. and subsidiary TransAlta Renewables Inc., up 4.9 per cent and 6.5 per cent, respectively. After markets closed Wednesday, TransAlta Corp. said it would increase its dividend and transfer $439 million worth of power transmission assets in Canada and the United States to the subsidiary.

Health care was the biggest loser Thursday among sectors, dropping 1.7 per cent on weakness in marijuana companies.

By Dan Healing in Calgary.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 24, 2020.

Companies in this story: (TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X, TSX;SW, TSX:TA, TSX:RNW)

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