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Canadian Stocks Are Looking For Direction In Early Trade - Canadian Commentary

The Canadian stock market is holding close to the unchanged line Friday morning. The market has been fluctuating between small gains and losses since the open. Energy and gold stocks are rising this morning, while healthcare stocks are under pressure.

Markets in Europe have been stuck in a sideways pattern throughout Friday's session, with the bulk of the markets trading slightly higher. The euro has continued its ascent against the dollar to hit a three-year high amid signs that the European Central Bank may wind down its 2.55 trillion euro bond purchase program this year.

Markets on Wall Street are rising in early trade Friday. Traders are reacting to the first batch of the earnings reporting season, after financial giants JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo released results. Retail sales data rose in line with economist estimates this morning, while consumer prices rose by less than expected.

The benchmark S&P/TSX Composite Index is up 2.18 points or 0.01 percent at 16,289.12.

On Thursday, the index closed up 38.99 points or 0.24 percent, at 16,286.94. The index scaled an intraday high of 16,301.42 and a low of 16,244.87.

The Gold Index is increasing 0.93 percent. Gold prices are higher Friday morning, extending 4-month gains.

Barrick Gold (ABX.TO) is rising 0.54 percent and Yamana Gold (YRI.TO) is advancing 0.72 percent. Kinross Gold (K.TO) is climbing 1.92 percent and Goldcorp (G.TO) is adding 0.32 percent. IAMGOLD (IMG.TO) is increasing 2.07 percent and B2Gold (BTO.TO) is gaining 2.72 percent. Eldorado Gold (ELD.TO) is up 1.26 percent.

The Capped Materials Index is up 0.75 percent. Franco-Nevada (FNV.TO) is rising 0.96 percent.

The Energy Index is rising 0.52 percent. Crude oil prices are slipping from 3-year highs Friday, as traders book profits from a furious rally inspired by a weak dollar and hopes the global market will re-balance this year.

Encana (ECA.TO) is climbing 0.63 percent and Suncor Energy (SU.TO) is adding 0.47 percent. Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) is increasing 0.41 percent and Enbridge (ENB.TO) is gaining 0.41 percent.

The Capped Healthcare Index is lower by 4.91 percent. Concordia International (CXR.TO) is weakening by 5.68 percent and Extendicare (EXE.TO) is falling 0.56 percent.

The Capped Telecommunication Services Index is down 0.25 percent. BCE (BCE.TO) declining 0.56 percent and Rogers Communications (RCI-B.TO) is lower by 0.29 percent.

The heavyweight Financial Index is decreasing 0.14 percent. National Bank of Canada (NA.TO) is weakening by 0.22 percent and Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO) is losing 0.07 percent. Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO) is falling 0.22 percent and Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO) is down 0.39 percent.

Sun Life Financial Inc. (SLF.TO) is rising 0.63 percent. The company said that as a result of the recent U.S. tax legislation, it expects the tax expense included in its 2018 underlying net income to decrease by approximately $130 million and also expects to incur a charge of $200 million to its net income in the fourth quarter.

On the economic front, China's exports grew more than expected in December on global recovery but the pace of expansion slowed from November.

Exports grew 10.9 percent year-on-year in December, data from the General Administration of Customs showed Friday.

The annual rate was faster than the expected 10 percent but slower than the 12.3 percent increase registered in November.

Imports climbed 4.5 percent annually, which was much weaker than the 14.8 percent increase economists' had forecast and November's 17.7 percent rise.

As a result, the trade surplus rose to $54.69 billion in December, while it was forecast to fall to $37.4 billion.

France's consumer prices increased at a steady pace in December, final data from the statistical office Insee showed Friday. Consumer prices climbed 1.2 percent year-on-year in December, the same pace of increase as seen in November and in line with flash estimate.

A report released by the Commerce Department on Friday showed U.S. retail sales rose in line with economist estimates in the month of December. The Commerce Department said retail sales increased by 0.4 percent in December after climbing by an upwardly revised 0.9 percent in November.

Economists had expected retail sales to rise by 0.4 percent compared to the 0.8 percent increase originally reported for the previous month.

Reflecting a sharp pullback in energy prices, the Labor Department released a report on Friday showing U.S. consumer prices rose by less than expected in the month of December. The Labor Department said its consumer price index inched up by 0.1 percent in December after climbing by 0.4 in November. Economists had expected prices to rise by 0.2 percent.

In commodities, crude oil futures for February delivery are down 0.03 or 0.05 percent at $63.77 a barrel.

Natural gas for February is up 0.037 or 1.20 percent at $3.121 per million btu.

Gold futures for February are up 3.00 or 0.23 percent at $1,328.40 an ounce.

Silver for March is up 0.129 or 0.76 percent at $17.095 an ounce.

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