Agrium, Saputo in focus Stocks in Toronto opened unchanged on Thursday as investors looked ahead to Friday's closely-watched employment figures from both sides of the border. The S&P/TSX composite index slid 24.95 points to begin Thursday at 13,589.68 The Canadian dollar slipped off another 0.21 cents to 92.19 cents U.S. Jean Coutu Group Inc reported an 11% rise in third-quarter profit, helped by a fall in expenses and a lower tax bill. Coutu shares took on 12 cents to $18.75 soon after the opening bell. Nordion Inc. reported a quarterly profit rebounding from a year-earlier loss that was partly due to a litigation charge. Nordion shares gained 40 cents , to 4.4%, to $9.55 . Agrium Inc. said on Wednesday it will restructure its three divisions into two business units, wholesale and retail, in the first quarter of 2014 as it moves to become more efficient. Agrium shares acquired 16 cents to $98.06 . Canadian Natural Resources has dropped plans to dispose of its Montney shale-gas property after failing to attract a suitable offer. Natural shares opened 13 cents higher at $35.37 . Goldcorp said late on Wednesday that its annual gold production could rise up to 18% even as it expects to rein in costs over the next two years expecting to produce between 3.0 and 3.15 million ounces of gold in 2014, an increase of 13 to 18%. Goldcorp shares gained four cents to $23.91 . Rogers Communications said Wednesday its Sportsnet channel has signed an eight-year extension to its broadcast deal with Major League Baseball . Shares in the cable giant inched forward two cents to $47.76 . Royal Bank of Canada led investment banks in advising on equity issues and mergers and acquisitions in Canada in 2013, but share issues overall rose only slightly in the year and M&A activity fell hard. RBC shares faded 20 cents to $70.80 . Saputo has raised its stake in takeover target Warrnambool Cheese and Butter Factory Holdings Co to 20.1%, making it the biggest shareholder just ahead of its offer deadline on Friday. Saputo shares added two cents to $48.93 . Economically speaking, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation reported that housing starts in December came in at 195,760 units compared to 196,430 in November. Moreover, contractors took out $6.8 billion worth of building permits in November, down 6.8% from the month before, while Statistics Canada's new housing price index was unchanged in the same month, following a 0.1% advance in October. ON BAYSTREET The TSX Venture Exchange continued its march, gaining 2.38 points to 958.54 Eight of the 14 TSX subgroups were higher at the outset, led by health-care issues, up 0.5%, industrials, gaining 0.3%, and real-estate, clearing breakeven by 0.1%. The half-dozen laggards were weighed by the metals and mining sector, down 2.1%, while global base metals and materials each faded 0.8%. ON WALLSTREET Stocks were flat Thursday as investors digested the latest economic data and await the government's key jobs reports Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumped 15.30 points to begin the session at 16,447.36 The S&P 500 index squeezed higher by 0.43 points to 1,837.92. The NASDAQ skidded 3.38 points to 4,162.25 On the corporate front, Macy's shares surged after the department store operator revealed cost-cutting plans late Wednesday that included laying off 2,500 workers and closing five stores. The retailer maintained its financial forecasts. Bed Bath & Beyond tumbled more than 10% after the retailer reported quarterly earnings that missed estimates. Family Dollar shares plunged after the budget retailer missed estimates on sales and profit, reported a drop in same-store sales, and lowered its guidance for the year. Shares rose for Costco after it reported an increase in same-store sales. Twitter dropped after a bearish analyst report from Cowen & Co. Twitter's stock has fallen recently due to concerns about its valuation. Aluminum producer Alcoa was down after reaching a $384-million U.S. agreement with the Securities and Exchange Commission relating to allegations that it bribed officials in Bahrain in its business dealings there. The company will report fourth quarter results after the bell. On the economic slate, the U.S. Labor Department said Thursday that the number of people filing jobless claims for the first time last week fell to 330,000, a drop of 15,000 compared to the previous week and better than what economists were predicting. On Friday, the government will release its all-important December jobs report. Economists predict the report will show 193,000 jobs were added in December, consistent with the solid hiring during the last four months of 2013. The unemployment rate is expected to remain at 7%. Prices for 10-year U.S. Treasuries were static, keeping yields at Wednesday's 2.99%. Oil prices inched up 14 cents at $92.47 U.S. a barrel. Gold prices improved 40 cents to $1,226.40 U.S. an ounce.
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