TSX nears six-year high as energy shares extend rally

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada’s main stock index reached its highest in nearly six years on Thursday after positive U.S. economic data drove gains in the price of oil, which in turn lifted shares of oil producers.

A Bay Street sign, a symbol of Canada's economic markets and where main financial institutions are located, is seen in Toronto, May 1, 2013. REUTERS/Mark Blinch

The energy sector has advanced in each of the last five sessions and added nearly 3 percent in the last two. Analysts expect a strong showing from the group in the upcoming Canadian earnings season.

Investors were encouraged by data that showed new applications for U.S. unemployment benefits climbed slightly last week and remained near their pre-recession levels, easing some concerns about the recovery in the world’s biggest economy.

The market appeared to be calming down after a volatile phase over concerns about stretched valuations and the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy.

Fed Chair Janet Yellen reassured investors on Wednesday, saying the U.S. economy appeared to be moving slowly toward full employment but that it would need help from the U.S. central bank for some time to come.

Global markets rallied on those comments, and the benchmark Canadian index recorded its biggest gain in more than two months on Wednesday.

With the market to be closed for the Good Friday holiday, trading volumes were below average levels.

“It’s a pretty quiet day, with the long weekend and with relatively little macro news driving the market,” said Ben Jang, a portfolio manager at Nicola Wealth Management. “Things have turned positive but on relatively low volume.”

“As the economy improves, you’ll see more rotation from the growth and hyper-growth names to the value-oriented,” he added. “This rotation is healthy as it’s a sign of more normalized capital markets.”

Jang, who helps manage about C$2.5 billion in assets, expects both the Canadian and U.S. markets to record high single-digit gains this year.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 53.87 points, or 0.37 percent, at 14,500.39. It added 1.7 percent this week.

Six of the 10 main sectors on the index were higher.

Financials, the index's most heavily weighted sector, climbed 0.5 percent. Insurer Manulife Financial Corp MFC.TO added 1.4 percent to C$20.66, and rival Sun Life Financial Inc SLF.TO advanced 1.5 percent to C$36.85.

Shares of energy producers jumped 1.3 percent. Suncor Energy Inc SU.TO climbed 0.8 percent to C$40.47, and Canadian Natural Resources Ltd CNQ.TO rose 1.5 percent to C$44.75.

The bullion price slipped, weighing on gold-mining shares. Barrick Gold Corp ABX.TO shed 1.9 percent to C$19.81.

($1=$1.10 Canadian)

Editing by Peter Galloway and James Dalgleish