Stocks rise, European leaders pledge to help Greece with its growing debt crisis

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market moved higher Thursday as a commitment from the European Union to help Greece deal with its huge debt problem eased fears of a default.
The S&P/TSX composite index was up 80.7 points to 11,367.1 at mid-afternoon.
The Canadian dollar rose 0.42 cent to 94.49 cents US.
Investors were relieved as the president of the European Union, Herman Van Rompuy, said following a meeting of EU leaders that countries that use the euro were ready to take "co-ordinated measures" if necessary to help Greece stave off default.
There was some disappointment that the deal didn't include a sign of solid financial backing for Greece. But some analysts suggested it was unrealistic to expect much more from the EU at this point.
"It's very difficult at this early stage to come out with anything that has a lot of meat - and I think the people in the marketplace who were expecting that were bound to be disappointed," said Norman Raschkowan, chief investment officer at Mackenzie Financial Corp.
"What you do have is a recognition on the part of Greece's EU partners that they do have to do something - that it is their problem too. And I think that's really important. As long as you got them recognizing that, they can't sort of leave Greece to fend for itself, that's a positive statement."
Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou said his country "will not be needing help." He added that Greece convinced his EU partners "we mean business."
A Greek default would be a serious blow to Europe's monetary union, and fears that Athens might not be able to pay its debts have already led markets to demand higher borrowing costs for Greece. Markets are also worried that the contagion could spread to other countries that have racked up huge debt, such as Portugal and Spain.
The TSX financial sector shed most losses from early nervousness about Greece's debt issue and was down slightly at mid-afternoon. However, shares in three of Canada's big life insurance companies lost ground following disappointing earnings results.
Sun Life Financial (TSX:SLF) shares fell $1.44 to $29.92 after it said on Thursday that quarterly profit more than doubled to $296 million or 52 cents a share in the last quarter of 2009. However, that's less than the 65 cents a share that analysts expected.
Manulife Financial Corp. (TSX:MFC) says it had a profit of $868 million in the fourth quarter, the equivalent of 51 cents per common share. That's an improvement from a year-earlier loss of $1.87-billion, or $1.24 per share and its shares moved down 82 cents to $18.68.
And Great-West Lifeco Inc. (TSX:GWO), the third of Canada's three biggest insurance company's to report Thursday, saw it shares lose six cents to $26.44 after the company reported profit of $443 million, or 47 cents per share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31. That's down from $525 million, or 59 cents per share, in the same period of 2008.
Elsewhere in the sector, TD Bank (TSX:TD) rose 79 cents to $65.22.
The base metals sector was the big winner, up 3.8 per cent as the March copper contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange was ahead 15 cents to US$3.14 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) ran ahead $1.92 to $37.64 while HudBay Minerals (TSX:HBM) rose 80 cents to $13.25.
The April bullion contract on the Nymex rose $17.60 to US$1,093.90 an ounce, taking the gold sector up two per cent. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) gained 73 cents to $38.63.
The TSX energy sector was ahead 0.84 per cent as the March crude contract climbed $1.03 to US$75.55 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) climbed 69 cents to $69.79.
Canada's largest natural gas producer, EnCana Corp. (TSX:ECA), saw its fourth-quarter profit fall 41 per cent as lower natural gas prices took a bite out of its top line. EnCana, which split off its oil division last year as Cenovus (TSX:CVE), earned a fourth-quarter profit of $636 million, compared to $1.08 billion in the same period a year ago.
Stripping out the impact of the oil assets that were spun off into Cenovus, EnCana said operating earnings fell to 50 cents per share from 73 cents. Its shares moved 38 cents higher to $32.85.
Cenovus also handed in its first earnings report since being spun off from EnCana, showing that the company had net income of $24 million and operating earnings of $152 million in the fourth quarter. Its shares climbed 43 cents to $25.17.
The consumer discretionary sector was the leading decliner as shares in Canadian Tire Corporation Ltd. (TSX:CTC.A) fell $3.16 to $52 after it reported that its net income for the fourth quarter came in at $96.2 million, down from $101.5 million a year earlier. Operating revenue in the 13 weeks ended Jan. 2 was $2.44 billion, down from $2.59 billion in a 14-week quarter ended year earlier.
The TSX Venture Exchange added 14.35 points to 1,491.13.
New York markets were higher as a sharp drop in the number of Americans filing for unemployment insurance last week encouraged buyers.
U.S. Labour Department said that first-time claims for unemployment benefits fell 43,000 to a seasonally adjusted 440,000. Economists were expecting a drop to 465,000.
The Dow Jones industrial average was up 98.8 points to 10,137.2.
The Nasdaq composite index rose 27.74 points to 2,175.61 while the S&P 500 climbed 8.95 points lower to 1,077.1.
In other earnings news, Yellow Pages Income Fund (TSX:YLO.UN) said its net income in the fourth quarter rose 24 per cent to $124.6 million or five cents a share. However the Montreal-based publisher of advertising directories added that its fourth-quarter revenue fell 4.7 per cent compared with a year earlier to $405.7 million. Its units rose 17 cents to $5.35.
Sierra Wireless Inc. (TSX:SW) shares tumbled $2.52 or 20 per cent to $9.95 after the company reported a loss of US$2.7 million in its latest quarter, weighed down by restructuring costs and the costs of integrating its Wavecom acquisition. The results and the company's earnings guidance missed analyst expectations.

Organizations: TSX, European Union, S&P EnCana Corp. Sun Life Financial Mackenzie Financial Manulife Financial Great-West Lifeco Inc. TD Bank New York Mercantile Exchange Teck Resources HudBay Minerals Nymex Barrick Gold Canadian Natural Resources Sierra Wireless Inc. Canadian Tire Corporation Ltd. U.S. Labour Department Dow Jones industrial average Yellow Pages Income Fund Wavecom

Geographic location: Greece, TORONTO, Canada US Europe Athens Portugal Spain New York

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