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TSX moves higher as U.S. service sector improves, jobs data disappoints

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed higher Wednesday as investors balanced a positive reading on the U.S. services sector with an unexpectedly weak report on private sector job creation in the United States.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 55.21 points at 13,559.69 while the Canadian dollar gained 0.01 of a cent to 90.25 cents US.

New York indexes were off session lows as the Dow industrials came back from a 105-point slide to finish 5.01 points lower at 15,440.23 despite the Institute for Supply Management having reported that its non-manufacturing index came in at 54 last month, up a full point from December.

The Nasdaq fell 19.97 points to 4,011.55 while the S&P 500 index was off 3.56 points at 1,751.64.

Earlier, payroll firm ADP reported the U.S. private sector created 175,000 jobs in January, about 15,000 short of what economists had expected. The U.S. government's employment report for January is expected Friday and economists have estimated a total of about 190,000 jobs were created.

An ISM survey on manufacturing sparked a drop on stock markets Monday after it came in lower than expected. The report followed other data that showed the pace of expansion of the Chinese manufacturing sector had also slowed.

The data raised questions about whether economic problems in emerging markets could spread to more developed economies.

The concerns come as the U.S. Federal Reserve moves to cut back its monthly bond purchases, a measure that helped keep the lid on long-term interest rates and encouraged traders to put their money in higher yielding securities such as stocks.

Emerging markets also benefited from a flood of cheap money which is turning against them as traders seek safer returns.

The uncertainty has triggered a steep downturn on stock markets, particularly in the U.S. where the S&P 500 is down almost six per cent from the start of 2014.

"For whatever reason, the market is starting to concentrate on the negative," said Allan Small, senior adviser at HollisWealth.

"And there’s a lot of it — slowdown in China, the Fed reducing stimulus, the emerging markets story — but overall if anyone tries to pinpoint one reason for the sell-off, they’re just being foolish."

Most of the TSX strength came from the financial sector, up 0.98 per cent.

But shares of Intact Financial (TSX:IFC) were lower after the insurer said fierce winter weather drove down quarterly net operating income to $143 million or $1.05 a share, missing estimates of $1.49 a share. Its shares fell 76 cents to $66.75.

The energy sector was ahead 0.98 per cent as the March crude oil contract in New York gained 19 cents to US$97.38 a barrel.

The gold sector led decliners, down 1.49 per cent as April bullion gained $5.70 to US$1,256.90 an ounce.

The base metals group was down 0.4 per cent as the March copper contract closed unchanged at US$3.19 a pound.

Elsewhere on the corporate front, the union representing 3,000 workers at Canadian National Railways (TSX:CNR), including conductors and yard workers, has given CN a 72-hour strike notice. CN shares gained 11 cents to $59.43.

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