N. American markets bounce back, led by energy and mining stocks

TORONTO -- North American equity markets were solidly higher Thursday, with beaten down energy and mining stocks helping lead the way despite a continuing decline in commodity prices.

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In mid-afternoon trading, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 118.45 points at 13,056.04, adding to a meagre 15-point gain Wednesday after Canada's main index tumbled more than 430 points earlier in the week.

Weakness in the loonie continued, however, with the Canadian dollar down 0.26 of a cent to 73.46 cents U.S.

In New York, indexes also turned higher following a three-day losing streak. The Dow Jones shot up 162.05 points to 17,654.35, while the S&P 500 added 15.32 points to 2,062.94 and the Nasdaq rose 43.13 points to 5,066.00.

On commodity markets, the January contract for benchmark oil was down 40 cents at US$36.76 a barrel, contributing to the loonie's weakness, while January natural gas gave back almost five cents to US$2.015 per mmBtu and February gold lost $4.50 to US$1.072.00 an ounce.

Despite the uptick on Thursday, markets remain cautious amid concern over the global economic slowdown and uncertainty over whether the U.S. Federal Reserve will raise interest rates for the first time since the Great Recession when it meets next week.

Historically low rates near zero are considered a major factor in supplying the liquidity that has helped boost markets since the recession. But many in the market now see a move higher as a good thing, signalling that the Fed believes the U.S. economic recovery is on solid footing and will continue.

In economic news, the Labor Department said applications for unemployment benefits in the U.S. rose last week, but the number of Americans seeking aid remains close to historic lows.

The Fed has said the U.S. employment picture is a major factor in its decision.


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