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TSX Rises On Trump Tariff Relief -- Canadian Commentary

Canadians stocks edged higher Thursday after President Donald Trump stressed that the U.S. would be "very flexible" on steel and aluminum tariffs.

Trump suggested during a Cabinet meeting that countries such as Canada, Mexico, and Australia could be exempt from the tariffs.

"We're going to be very flexible," Trump said. "At the same time, we have some friends and some enemies where we have been tremendously taken advantage of over the years."

The exemptions for Canada and Mexico would depend on the successful renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Trump said.

The TSX Composite Index was down 62.31 points to 15,537.92. Financials and gold stocks were weaker, but tech and consumer stocks provided support.

April WTI oil was down $1.03, or 1.7%, to settle at $60.12/bbl, the lowest in three weeks.

WestJet (WJA.TO) CEO Gregg Saretsky is retiring, replaced by Ed Sims, the company's executive vice president of commercial, effective immediately. Shares dropped 4 percent.

Machine parts maker Linamar (LIN.TO) said net earnings for 2017 came in at $549.4 million compared to $522.5 million a year earlier, on strong sales. Shares jumped 8.7 percent.

CN Rail (CNR.TO) was downgraded at Bank of America after the resignation of its CEO. Shares were downgraded to Neutral to Underperform with a price target lowered from $84 to $72. CN Rail shaes rose 1 percent.

In economic news, Canada's housing starts were 225,276 units in February 2018, compared to 224,572 units in January 2018, according to Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC).

"The national trend in housing starts has been very stable since November 2017, masking offsetting trends for multi-unit and single-detached dwellings," said Bob Dugan, CMHC's chief economist. "Multi-unit starts have trended higher in recent months in most major urban centres while single-detached starts have trended lower."

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