TSX set for lower open after sharp downturn, U.S. indexes up ahead of jobs data

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TORONTO - The Toronto stock market looked set for a slightly lower open Thursday amid falling prices for oil and gold and ahead of key U.S. economic data.

The Canadian dollar was off 0.02 of a cent to 97.32 cents US.

U.S. futures were higher as the Dow Jones industrials looked set to continue its winning streak.

The Dow futures gained 17 points to 14,415, the Nasdaq futures were up seven points to 2,800.5 while the S&P 500 futures rose 2.75 points to 1,552.75.

The Dow has finished higher for the past nine straight sessions — its longest winning run since 1996 — and established fresh record highs. Traders also focused on the S&P 500, which is only around 20 points away from its own all-time high.

The strong performance in March has carried on a rally that started early in the new year after American politicians stopped the economy going over the so-called fiscal cliff. The higher returns have since been supported by asssurances that the U.S. Federal Reserve will continue with its stimulus programs, strong fourth quarter earnings, steady employment gains and an improving housing sector, leaving the Dow industrials up 10 per cent year to date.

The rise in U.S. markets has in turn boosted many stock indexes around the world, including the main Toronto market.

However, the resource-intensive TSX has not fared nearly so well as prices for copper and gold have fallen amid doubts about the strength of the Chinese economic recovery while big parts of Europe remain stuck in recession as a result of the tough austerity measures adopted to deal with the government debt crisis.

The TSX is only up 2.5 per cent year to date after tumbling one per cent on Wednesday in a broad-based selloff on doubts about how long the current rally can last before retracing some of those big gains.

Commodities were mixed following declines on Wednesday.

The April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange shed 31 cents to US$92.21 a barrel.

April bullion faded $9.10 to US$1,579.30 an ounce while May copper gained a cent to US$3.54 a pound.

Meanwhile, on the economic calendar, investors will later be monitoring weekly U.S. jobless claims figures to see if the recent labour market improvement continues. The consensus in the markets is that claims remained around the 350,000 mark last week.

On the corporate front, Pierre Karl Peladeau is stepping aside as president and chief executive of Quebecor Inc. (TSX:QBR.B) and Quebecor Media Inc. but will remain with the companies and oversee corporate strategy. The new president and CEO of the Quebec-based media giant will be Robert Depatie, who has been president and CEO of Quebecor’s Videotron cable and telecom service since 2003.

Integrated vacation tour operatorTransat A.T. Inc. (TSX:TRZ.B) posted a quarterly net loss of $15.1 million or 39 cents per share on a diluted basis. That almost halved its net loss of $29.5 million a year ago. Revenue slid 2.8 per cent to $805.7 million.

Meanwhile, the company reported an adjusted after-tax loss of $21.6 million or 56 cents per share in the quarter.

Aurizon Mines Ltd. (TSX:ARZ), which is attempting to fend off a hostile takeover, says its net quarterly profit was $9.4 million or six cents a share, which met expectations. However, it was less than half the 13 cents per share reported a year earlier.

Aurizon’s quarterly revenue was $56.2 million.

European bourses were higher as London's FTSE 100 index rose 0.36 per cent, Frankfurt's DAX gained 0.8 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 was ahead 0.61 per cent.

Earlier in Asia, Japan’s Nikkei 225 index rose 1.2 per cent to its highest close in more than four years as investors anticipated parliament’s approval of Haruhiko Kuroda as chief of the Bank of Japan. Kuroda has been critical of the central bank’s policies in the past and is thought to back Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s strategies for seeking to revive Japan’s economy by fighting deflation through monetary easing and hefty government spending.

South Korea’s Kospi added 0.1 per cent and Hong Kong rose 0.3 per cent.

Organizations: TSX, Dow Jones, U.S. Federal Reserve Quebecor Inc. New York Mercantile Exchange AT Inc Aurizon Mines Ltd. FTSE 100 Bank of Japan

Geographic location: U.S., TORONTO, Europe London Frankfurt Asia Hong Kong

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