Loonie briefly breaks through 70 cents U.S. as TSX rises

TORONTO -- Strengthening oil prices sent North American stock markets higher while also helping the commodity-sensitive Canadian dollar briefly punch through the 70-cent U.S.

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mark Thursday.

At mid-afternoon, the loonie added 0.89 of a U.S. cent to 69.9 cents U.S. after cresting above 70 cents earlier in the day -- more than a full cent higher than its Wednesday close. The Canadian dollar hasn't closed above 70 cents U.S. in more than a week.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index was up 120.09 points at 11,963.20 as the March contract for benchmark crude oil rose $1.13 or almost four per cent to US$29.48 a barrel. The oil subsector was the biggest advancer on the TSX, up 4.39 per cent.

The increase in oil prices came despite a report showing a big jump in U.S. oil inventories last week, up four million barrels versus the 2.2 million that had been expected.

Strength in energy issues also led gains in New York, where markets were mixed. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 81.09 points to 15,847.83 after losses Wednesday, while the broader S&P 500 added 4.79 points to 1,864.12 and the Nasdaq fell 5.57 points to 4,466.12.

Elsewhere in commodities, the February contract for natural gas was unchanged at US$2.12 per mmBtu, while February gold fell $4.10 to US$1,102.10 an ounce and March copper rose three cents to US$1.99 a pound.

Besides the boost from oil prices, markets were also encouraged by remarks from the head of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, who said the bank would consider using more stimulus measures for the European economy at its next meeting in March.



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