Gold stocks help TSX as Fed stimulus concerns weigh on sentiment

Canadian stocks registered a modest gain at the end of a lacklustre week as concerns about monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve helped weigh on the TSX.The S&P/TSX composite index rose 32.35 points to 13,507.68, led by gold stocks which have fallen heavily this week.The Canadian dollar was off the worst levels of the morning amid data showing a better than expected read on retail sales and very low pressure on prices.The loonie was down 0.08 of a cent to 94.97 cents US as Statistics Canada reported that October retail sales rose one per cent, much higher than the 0.3 per cent gain that economists had expected. But excluding autos, sales were flat against an expected 0.2 per cent rise.On the inflation front, the agency reported that consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 0.7 per cent in October, down from 1.1 per cent in September and lower than the 0.9 per cent rate that was expected.U.S. indexes were also higher with the Dow industrials ahead 15.02 points to 16.025.01, the Nasdaq gained 13 points to 3,982.16 and the S&P 500 index edged up 2.83 points to 1,798.68.The weak showing came a day after the Dow industrials closed above 16,000 for the first time amid data showing jobless insurance applications back almost to where they were before the Great Recession.At the same time, there was another round of concerns about stimulus after minutes from the Fed’s latest meeting suggested the U.S. central bank will start reducing its $85 billion of monthly bond purchases in coming months.The content of the minutes may have come as a surprise to markets after Janet Yellen, who is slated to become the next Fed chairman, had expressed strong support for low interest rate and bond buying policies during her confirmation hearing last week.This third round of quantitative easing has kept interest rates low to support a slow but steady economic recovery in the U.S. but also propelled money into higher yielding stocks.The Dow industrials are up 22 per cent year to date. If it holds onto those gains, the Dow will have its best year since 2003.The TSX is only up a bit over eight per cent with the index held back by big slides in precious and base metal stocks.The gold sector led advancers, up 1.3 per cent. The sector is by far the worst TSX performer, down about five per cent this week and about 45 per cent year to date as low inflation and the rising probability of Fed tapering have lessened gold’s allure as a hedge. December bullion climbed $3.10 to US$1,246.70 and Goldcorp (TSX:G) improved by 42 cents to $24.93.The base metals component rose 0.3 per cent while December copper rose one cent to US$3.20. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) advanced 16 cents to C$18.61.Financials were also positive with Manulife Financial (TSX:MFC) ahead 25 cents to $20.36 after earlier hitting a new 52-week high of $20.37.The energy component ticked 0.1 per cent lower with January crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange off $1.12 to US$94.32. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) was 51 cents lower to $34.75.On the corporate front, the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld Ontario rules banning big pharmacies from selling their own private-label generic drugs, saying the province’s 2010 decision to ban the practice was consistent with its efforts to ensure transparent drug pricing. Shoppers Drug Mart (TSX:SC) and Rexall challenged the province because they wanted to be able to sell their own lower-priced generic versions of big-name drugs. Shoppers shares slipped seven cents to $59.04.European bourses were mixed with London’s FTSE 100 index off 0.09 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX rose 0.17 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 gained 0.6 per cent.Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 stock average rose 0.1 per cent, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added 0.5 per cent, Seoul’s Kospi gained 0.6 per cent and Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 jumped 0.9 per cent.

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