TSX rallies more than 250 points as oil prices show signs of

TORONTO — The Toronto stock market shot up over 250 points Friday as energy stocks responded to some stability in oil prices this week and base metals started to recover from a severe mauling sparked by a plunge in copper prices.The S&P/TSX composite index soared 267.59 points to 14,309.41.The Canadian dollar lost 0.02 of a cent to 83.56 cents US.New York markets improved following the release of strong consumer data. The University of Michigan’s consumer confidence index for January jumped to 98.2, up from 93.0 last month and better than the 94.1 reading that economists had expected.The Dow Jones industrials gained 190.86 points to 17,511.57, the Nasdaq was up 63.56 points to 4,634.38 and the S&P 500 index was 26.75 points higher at 2,019.42.The TSX energy sector was the star performer, ahead 6.15% as oil tries to find support around the US$45 a barrel level.Prices have plunged almost 40% since the end of November after the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries ruled out cuts in production to support prices. Overall, crude prices are down about 55% from the highs of June 2014 amid a huge supply/demand imbalance.Despite the strong gain Friday, analysts caution about picking a bottom for oil.“It’s too hard a call,” said Bob Gorman, chief portfolio strategist at TD Waterhouse.“It’s really dependent on how much pain the Saudis want to inflict on, in ascending order, on Iran, the Russians and the U.S. fracking industry. And we just don’t know. These things tend to go on longer and further than you think.”Prices were supported Friday by a report from the International Energy Agency which said the collapse in oil prices is expected to slash growth in non-OPEC oil production this year. And it said that could in turn increase demand for OPEC’s own output.The February crude contract in New York closed up $2.44 at US$48.69 a barrel. There was further evidence of how the collapse in oil prices is affecting oilpatch support firms.Schlumberger Ltd. (NYSE:SLB) has recorded a $296-million charge as it cuts its workforce by 9,000. Its quarterly adjusted earnings were $1.50 a share, five cents above estimates. Sales rose six per cent to $12.6 billion, in line with analyst expectations. The company is also raising its dividend by 25%, paying 50 cents a share. Its stock rose 6.13% to US$81.33.The base metals sector was ahead six per cent with March copper advancing six cents to US$2.62 a pound. The metals component has tumbled about 15% just this week alone after copper prices went into full retreat, falling below US$2.49 a pound in the worst performance since the 2008 financial crisis. The slide came amid weak trade data from China and a cut in the World Bank’s estimate for global growth this year.The gold sector was ahead 3.25% with bullion prices rising $12.10 to US$1,276.90 an ounce on top of five strong days of advances amid expectations that the European Central Bank will move next week to launch its own quantitative easing program, which would involve the massive purchase of bonds. There has also been speculation that the U.S. Federal Reserve could delay raising interest rates this year.All sectors were positive, save for a 0.3% dip in consumer staples.North American markets continued to register losses last week with the TSX losing 76 points or 0.5% on top of a 2.5% drop the previous week. The Dow industrials fell 225 points or 1.27%.

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