CANADA STOCKS-TSX rises to highest level in nearly six months

Thu Feb 23, 2012 4:48pm EST

* TSX up 30.02 pts, or 0.2 pct, at 12,731.28

* Highest close since Aug. 31, 2011

* Energy, material issues lift index

* U.S. jobless claims hold near 4-yr lows

* Euro zone contraction forecast for 2012

By Jon Cook

TORONTO, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Canadian stocks ended at their highest level in nearly six months on Thursday as oil and gas shares jumped on surging oil prices and as encouraging U.S. jobs data offset a pessimistic outlook for the euro zone economy.

Most of the index's 10 main sectors were higher, led by a 1 percent jump in oil and gas shares after Brent oil priced in euros hit a record high on Thursday on heightened tension between Iran and the West.

Suncor Energy was the biggest heavyweight gainer, rising 2.2 percent to C$36.39. Pacific Rubiales surged 7.8 percent to C$29.44 on a Royal Bank of Canada rating upgrade after the energy producer said on Thursday its Colombian oil reserves grew by 52 percent in 2011.

"Canada is very favorable here because you are in the best portion of seasonality for the energy sector," said Sid Mokhtari, a market technician at CIBC World Markets.

The oil and gas sector has risen more than 7 percent this year and Mokhtari said March and April are traditionally the best months of the year for gains.

"It's reasonable to assume that the U.S. dollar would drift lower and help the commodities like oil and gold, and that should be a positive for Canada," he added.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index finished up 30.02 points, or 0.2 percent, at 12,731.28, its highest close since Aug. 31, 2011.

Gains were supported by U.S. data that showed jobless claims were unchanged last week, holding at the lowest level since the early days of the 2007-09 recession.

Signs that the battered U.S. labor and housing markets are healing has helped the TSX jump more than 5 percent so far this year. Figures on Wednesday showed U.S. home resales surged to a 1-1/2 year high in January.

"We have clarity in that the U.S. is still showing positive momentum both in terms of economic growth and job growth and those were things that were missing six months ago," said Philip Petursson, managing director of the portfolio advisory group at Manulife Asset Management.

Gold miners pushed the heavily weighted materials group up 0.2 percent as bullion traded near $1,800 an ounce. Gains were led by Osisko Mining Corp and Yamana Gold after they both reported strong earnings and Yamana increased its dividend.

Osisko rose 5.1 percent to C$12.55, and Yamana jumped 3.1 percent to C$17.90.

Bullion has benefited from expectations for further credit easing by China and after the U.S. Federal Reserve last month said it would keep interest rates near zero at least until late 2014.

"If you have inflationary pressures, gold is going to move on it," Petursson said.

In Europe, upbeat economic data from Germany was overshadowed by the European Commission's forecast on Thursday that euro area GDP would shrink 0.3 percent this year. Its previous forecast was for 0.5 percent growth.

Canadian financial shares were flat. Bank of Nova Scotia slid 0.4 percent to C$53.51, while Royal Bank of Canada edged up 0.2 percent to C$54.42.