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The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION

Toronto stock market advances amid strong bank earnings, Chinese data

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market registered a solid gain Thursday as strong earnings from Royal Bank (TSX:RY) and TD Bank (TSX:TD) pushed financials higher while miners got a boost from improving Chinese manufacturing data.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 52.43 points to 14,702.29 as both banks beat analysts' expectations and their share prices hit record highs.

The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.18 of a cent at 91.8 cents US despite a worse than expected showing in retail sales in March.

Statistics Canada reported that sales fell 0.1 per cent in March to $41.1 billion. Economists had expected a gain of 0.3 per cent.

New York indexes were positive after racking up strong gains Wednesday in the wake of the release of minutes from late April's Federal Reserve meeting, which reinforced expectations the U.S. central bank won’t rush to raise interest rates.

The Dow Jones industrials climbed 10.02 points to 16,543.08, the Nasdaq gained 22.8 points to 4,154.34 and the S&P 500 index added 4.46 points to 1,892.49.

Royal Bank’s quarterly net earnings were up 15 per cent from a year ago to $2.2 billion or $1.47 a share, helped along by record earnings in its wealth management segment. Cash diluted earnings per share were $1.49, beating estimates by five cents. RBC's shares ran ahead $1.17 to $75.46 after going as high as $75.93.

And TD shares gained $1.35 to $53.25 after going as high as $53.32 as the bank reported quarterly net income of $1.98 billion, up from $1.71 billion in the same quarter of 2013. Diluted earnings per share were $1.04 in the quarter, compared with 89 cents year over year. Adjusted net income was up at $2.07 billion, or $1.09 diluted EPS, beating estimates by seven cents a share.

"I don’t know if this pace of outperformance is going to continue, but it certainly looks good for the banking system," said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at 3MACS.

"I don’t see any chink in the armour (and) I think the next quarter will be quite strong," he said.

Meanwhile, China’s manufacturing contraction eased in May, as HSBC’s preliminary purchasing managers' index rose to 49.7 from 48.1 in April. Numbers above 50 on the 100-point scale indicate expansion.

The HSBC reading follows a similar survey by an official group that had also been showing signs of a rebound in China, with factory activity growing weakly in April.

Analysts say that the improvements in both surveys suggest the Chinese government’s targeted measures to support the economy are moderating the pace of the slowdown.

Elsewhere on the earnings front, electronics seller Best Buy says its quarterly net income was US$461 million, or $1.31 per share, a turnaround from a loss of $81 million, or 24 cents per share, a year earlier. Adjusted earnings were 33 cents per share, well above analyst expectations of 19 cents. Total revenue fell three per cent to US$9.04 billion, considerably below expectations of $9.23 billion, but its shares were up 87 cents to US$26.22.

The base metals sector climbed 1.3 cent as copper prices rose in the wake of the Chinese manufacturing data with the July contract up two cents to US$3.14 a pound.

The energy sector was ahead 0.12 per cent, while July crude lost 33 cents to US$103.74 a barrel.

June bullion gained $6.90 to US$1,295 an ounce and the gold sector dipped about 0.2 per cent.

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