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TSX closes with slight gain: traders cautious amid Russia-Ukraine concerns

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed slightly higher Wednesday, as worries about growing Russian troop strength on the border with Ukraine helped increased the price of gold and lifted gold stocks.

The S&P/TSX composite index climbed 14.38 points to 15,202.09. The TSX gold sector was up about 1.6 per cent, as nervous investors pushed December bullion ahead $22.90 to US$1,308.20 an ounce.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.39 of a cent to 91.63 cents US. Earlier, Statistics Canada reported that the trade surplus shot up to $1.9 billion in June from a revised $576 million in May. Economists had generally expected a $100 million deficit.

The trade improvement came as exports from Canada rose 1.1 per cent to a record high of $45 billion in June, while imports to Canada declined 1.8 per cent.

New York indexes were similarly tepid as the Dow Jones industrials added 13.87 points to 16,443.34, the Nasdaq edged up 2.21 points to 4,355.05 and the S&P 500 index inched up 0.03 of a point to 1,920.24.

Geopolitical worries were front and centre on worries that a Russian troop buildup could lead to an invasion of Ukraine to protect separatists. Investors were rattled after Poland’s prime minister said he has information indicating that there is a growing threat of a "direct intervention" by Russia in Ukraine.

Analysts also point to concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve could move to hike interest rates earlier than first thought because several data points have come in stronger than expected lately.

The recent market downturn also comes at a time when markets, particularly in the U.S., could be set for a retracement after running up practically non-stop for over five years.

"I think they are looking for an excuse (to sell)," said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at 3MACS.

"It’s been sort of like a beeline straight up and people are just taking some money off the table."

The energy sector was flat while September crude dropped 46 cents to a six-month low of US$96.92 a barrel.

The base metals sector was down 0.4 per cent while September copper dropped four cents to US$3.17 a pound.

Earnings news supported the TSX as Tim Hortons (TSX:THI) reported that same-store sales grew 2.6 per cent in Canada and 5.6 per cent in the United States. The restaurant chain also anticipates earnings per share to be near the higher end — or slightly above — its current target range of $3.17 to $3.27 earnings per share for the year and its shares ran ahead $4.44 or 7.39 per cent to $64.52 after earlier hitting a record high of $64.73.

"It shows how strong the franchise is in Canada," added Nakamoto.

"There have been various attempts to take it down a peg or two by Starbucks, McDonalds and so forth. But they still seem to be holding their own, if not gaining market share if you look at those numbers."

Molson Coors Brewing Co. (NYSE:TAP, TSX:TPX.B) beat expectations as quarterly net earnings increased 9.5 per cent to US$290.7 million in the second quarter on higher revenues. Revenues grew nearly one per cent to $1.2 billion even though worldwide beer volume fell to 16.6 million hectolitres and its shares ran up $3.87 or 5.76 per cent to US$71.08 in New York.

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