Canadian shares reversed earlier losses after data showed that the Canadian economy might grow faster than expected in the first quarter, as surging exports helped produce the country's first trade surplus in a year in March. Toronto's main index was also lifted by surging commodities, after the European Central Bank cut its key benchmark rate as expected, and the Fed kept its bond-buying pace in place.
In corporate news, financials advanced as Manulife Financial Corp. (TSE:MFC), Canada’s largest life insurer, rallied 4.6% after reporting first-quarter core earnings that matched analysts’ estimates. Core earnings for the January-March period increased 18 percent to C$619 million, or 32 Canadian cents a share, the Toronto-based company said in a statement on Thursday. That met the average estimate of 5 analysts which was for earnings of 32 cents a share.
The energy sector also gained after Penn West Petroleum (TSE:PWT), a Canadian oil and natural gas producer, rose 1.4% after replacing its long-serving chairman as it reported a loss for third consecutive quarter. The Calgary-based company appointed Jack Schanck, a director at the company since 2008, as chairman of its board, to replace John Brussa, who stepped down on Wednesday after eight years at the helm.
The benchmark gauge came under pressure from mining and consumer companies reporting disappointing quarterly results.
Goldcorp Inc. (TSE:G), the biggest gold producer by market value, dropped 0.6% as earnings and output missed forecasts. Net income decreased to $309 million, or 33 cents a share, from $479 million, or 51 cents, a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, earnings were 31 cents, below the 38-cent average of 21 estimates compiled by Bloomberg. Sales slid to $1.02 billion from $1.21 billion a year earlier, missing the $1.35 billion average of eight estimates, as higher costs and lower gold prices offset increased sales volumes of the yellow metal.
Aurizon Mines Ltd. (TSE:ARZ), the gold producer that agreed in March to be acquired by Hecla Mining Co. (NYSE:HL), plunged 6.3% after a newspaper reported a dam failed at its Casa Berardi mine in Quebec, spilling contaminated water into James Bay.
Elsewhere, Lupaka Gold Corp. (TSE:LPK) announced today the beginning of its 2013 field season signalled by the mobilization of geologic field teams to the company’s Crucero gold project and the Invicta poly-metallic project in Peru. The Vancouver-based gold explorer stopped drilling at the flagship Crucero project as planned in December 2012 due to the start of the rainy season that typically occurs between January and March.
Weak cobalt prices, meanwhile, have forced Formation Metals (TSE:FCO) to stay its plans for underground development at the flagship Idaho Cobalt project (ICP), the company announced Thursday. As recently as this year, the Vancouver–based mineral exploration, mine development and refining company announced the minesite at the project as being “fundamentally prepared to commence underground development (contingent on successful conclusion of mine financing).”
The change in plans is being attributed to a fall in the price of the metal as the company’s plans for the mine were predicated on a cobalt price of $22.52 per pound.
Catamaran Corp. (TSE:CCT), a pharmacy services provider, retreated 7% after reporting first quarter sales that missed estimates. Catamaran reported first-quarter revenue of $3.2 billion, below the average analyst estimate of $3.53 billion.
Maple Leaf Foods Inc. (TSE:MFI), a food processor, tumbled 5.4% after the company announced a much wider first quarter loss from a year earlier, citing a "very difficult" quarter on lower earnings in its protein business. The Toronto-based company's net loss widened to C$14.7 million, or 11 Canadian cents a share, in the first quarter from C$5.8 million, or 4 Canadian cents a share, a year earlier.
Montreal-based toy maker MEGA Brands (TSE:MB) edged up after it reported Thursday that net loss narrowed in the first quarter as sales rose 11 per cent. For the three months that ended March 31, the company reported a net loss of $7.2 millon, or 43 cents per share, compared to a net loss of $8.5 million, or 52 cents per share, in the year-ago period. The company said that historically, the first quarter is the period with the lowest sales of the year, and negative profitability.
Gildan Activewear (TSE:GIL) (NYSE:GIL) has announced record results for the quarter, exceeding the previous guidance despite what the company says were challenging market conditions, citing lower than forecast promotional discounting in printwear, significantly lower cotton costs, and higher unit sales volumes in both operating segments. It also boosted its full year earnings guidance. Earnings per share are now projected to come in at an adjusted full year figure of between US$2.65 and $2.70, the upper end of the previous guidance range of US$2.60-$2.70. Shares advanced 1.7% on Thursday.
Valeant Pharmaceuticals International (TSE:VRX), a Montreal-based drug-maker, slipped over 1% after it said it took a loss in the first quarter on costs related to its purchase of dermatology products maker Medicis Pharmaceutical Corp.
In other stocks, Stella-Jones (TSE:SJ) advanced 2.7% after it said net income in the first quarter rose 25% as sales increased 36.7% to $217.0 million, citing "sustained demand" for the company's core railway tie and utility pole products. The latest quarter represents the first full period that includes the operating results of McFarland Cascade Holdings, which it acquired last November.
Montreal-based engineering and construction company SNC-Lavalin (TSE:SNC) is maintaining its outlook for 2013 despite lower earnings for the first quarter, announced Thursday along with a three-part strategic plan designed to focus on growth in its resources segment, after a year overshadowed by an ongoing bribery scandal.
Net income attributable to SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. shareholders was $53.6 million or 35 cents per share on a diluted basis for the three months to March 31, compared to the $66.3 million or 44 cents per share on a diluted basis posted for the same quarter in 2012. Results missed the 49 cents per share adjusted that analysts had been expecting, according to Thomson Reuters.
Moving to junior markets in Canada, Cadillac Ventures (CVE:CDC) announced Thursday the discovery of polymetallic veining consisting of silver and copper at its Burnt Hill property in New Brunswick - the first such discovery at the property to the company's knowledge. Last Fall, the company told investors today that the surface prospecting and exploration part of its program led to the finding of polymetallic mineralization at the new "Big Bad Wolf" and "Q60 Hill" showings.
"The discovery of a polymetallic phase of mineralization at Burnt Hill suggests a more complex mineralization, with parallels to the mineral systems found in Cornwall, which exhibit similar setting and age relationships," said the company in its release on Thursday.
And Avrupa Minerals (CVE:AVU) provided Thursday an update on its exploration progress at its licenses in the North Portugal tungsten-gold belt, saying it has been active in seeking potential joint venture partners to assist with the work, with shares rising more than 33 per cent on the back of the news. The company is exploring five licenses in the developing belt, including its Covas tungsten joint venture with Blackheath Minerals.
Avrupa told investors that it is continuing to evaluate and upgrade target possibilities on its licenses, and is "actively engaged" in attracting potential partners.