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TSX Settles Modestly Higher

The Canadian stock market stayed firmly entrenched in positive territory right through the session on Friday as renewed optimism about U.S.-China trade talks outweighed concerns about a slowing Canadian economy.

Reports that Chinese Vice Premier Liu He had telephonic conversations with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer raised optimism about trade negotiations between the worlds two largest economies.

A report from RBC Economics that said the Canadian economy is headed for a slower growth in 2019 limited market's upside. RCB Economics has downgraded its 2019 Canadian forecast to 1.5% from 1.7%, citing sluggish energy sector and softer consumer spending due to higher interest rates.

Statistics Canada said manufacturing sales increased 1.0% to $57.1 billion in January, following three consecutive monthly decreases.

According to a report from the Canadian Real Estate Association, national home sales plummeted 9.1% month-over-month in February. Actual activity was down 4.4% year-over-year.

Healthcare shares led the market higher today. Mirroring their surge, the Capped Healthcare Index gained 2.33%. Financial stocks were the other notable movers.

Energy stocks were somewhat sluggish, while materials lost their way after a fairly strong start. Consumer staples, consumer discretionary, industrial, information technology and real estate stocks ended mixed, while telecom stocks found modest support.

The benchmark S&P/TSX Composite Index ended up 52.80 points, or 0.33%, at 16,140.35, after scaling a low of 16,123.83 and a high of 16,174.54 intraday.

On Thursday, the index ended down 62.42 points, or 0.39%, at 16,087.55. For the week, the index gained about 0.9%.

Among bank stocks, Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO), Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO) and National Bank of Canada (NA.TO) gained 0.4 to 0.8%, while Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO) and Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO) finished modestly higher.

Manulife Financial Corporation (MFC.TO) and Sun Life Financial Inc. (SLF.TO) gained 0.85% and 1.32%, respectively. Fairfax Financial Holdings (FFH.TO) declined 1.45%.

In the healthcare space, Aurora Cannabis Inc. (ACB.TO) jumped more than 7.6%, Cronos Group (CRON.TO) gained 1.5%, Aphria Inc. (APHA.TO) advanced 1.35% and Green Organic Dutchman Holdings (TGOD.TO) ended 3.4% up.

Among energy stocks, Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) and Imperial Oil (IMO.TO) lost more than 1%. Husky Energy (HSE.TO) shed more than 3%, while Vermilion Energy (VET.TO) ended nearly 1% up.

In the materials space, Franco-Nevada Corporation (FNV.TO) gained 1.5%, First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO) ended 2.2% up, Turquoise Hill Resources (TRQ.TO) climbed 4% and Wheaton Precious Metals (WPM.TO) soared nearly 4%, while Kirkland Lake Gold (KL.TO) declined 2.5%.

Technology stock BlackBerry (BB.TO) gained 1.6% after the company announced that its fiscal fourth quarter and financial year 2019 results will be announced on March 29.

AutoCanada Inc. (ACQ.TO) shares plunged more than 6% after the company reported fourth quarter revenue of $782.8 million, up 6.8% compared with the fourth quarter of 2017. Same store revenue declined by 3% in the fourth quarter, compared with the year-ago quarter.

Hardwoods Distribution Inc. (HDI.TO) said its profit increased 7.4% to $32.2 million in 2018. Diluted profit per share grew to $1.49, or an increase of 7.2%. Adjusted diluted profit per share increased 4.5% to $1.61 per share. The stock ended lower by 1.55%.

On Wall Street, stocks fluctuated early in the session but moved mostly higher over the course of the trading day on Friday. The Nasdaq and the S&P 500 reached their best closing levels in five months.

The major averages ended the day well off their highs of the session but still firmly in positive territory. The Dow and the S&P 500 both ended higher by 0.5%, while the Nasdaq advanced 0.8%.

Optimism about trade talks supported the market and traders largely shrugged off the release of some disappointing U.S. economic data, including a Federal Reserve report showing industrial production rose by much less than expected in the month of February.

European markets settled mostly higher on trade talks hopes and easing worries about Brexit. Asian markets too closed mostly higher on Friday.

In commodities, West Texas Intermediate Crude oil futures for April ended down $0.09, or 0.2%, at $58.52 a barrel.

Gold futures for April ended up $7.80, or 0.6%, at $1,302.90 an ounce.

Silver futures for May ended up $0.153, at $15.324 an ounce, while Copper futures for May settled at $2.9060 per pound, gaining $0.0145 for the session.

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