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At the open: Dow takes aim at all-time high

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

North American markets were slightly higher in early trading, with the Dow Jones industrial average closing in on an all-time high - but taking its time to get there.

A weaker-than-expected gross domestic product report from the U.S. zapped a bit of enthusiasm for buying equity securities this morning, especially with massive U.S. spending cuts likely just around the corner that could dent growth further.

In early trading, the S&P/TSX composite index was up 17 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 12,749; the S&P 500 was up 4 points, or 0.2 per cent, at 1,520; and the Dow Jones industrial average was up 21 points, or 0.15 per cent, at 14,099 - just 65 points away from its all-time high.

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The more broader S&P 500 index is a little further away from its all-time high of 1,565.15. The underperforming TSX is still struggling to beat its highs just from earlier this month.

Three of the Big 5 Canadian banks reported earnings today that beat forecasts when one-time charges are stripped out. But the results didn't spark any big rallies, and one of the banks - Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce - opened lower after it refrained from hiking its dividend.

The week started precariously for markets after Italy's election resulted in a hung parliament. But optimism is returning for that part of the world, with speculation growing today that the country will form a coalition government. European leaders are expected to continue to put pressure on Italy to reform its fiscal house, and the outlandish Silvio Berlusconi may not be as big of a threat for austerity measures as markets may have first feared. In a sign of a little less concern of the country's political mess, the yield on 10-year Italian bonds this morning is down 5 basis points to 4.70 per cent.

Meanwhile, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's testimony in front of Congress this week provided the market with confidence that stimulative bond-buying measures by the central bank - as well as its low interest rate policy - will stay intact for some time.

Asian markets rallied overnight in the footsteps of Wall Street's gains - and European shares this morning are more modestly higher amid some encouragement from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi, who said he has no intention of tightening policy anytime soon given subdued inflation.

In economic data this morning, the U.S. released a revision to fourth-quarter gross domestic product, showing that the economy grew a very modest 0.1 per cent during the three-month period, well below economists' expectations for 0.5 per cent growth. Still, that was better than the 0.1 contraction initially reported. Meanwhile, U.S. initial jobless claims for last week came in at 344,000, down from 362,000 the previous week and less than the 360,000 that was forecast.

Meanwhile, no talks are scheduled between the major political parties in the U.S. to avoid the so-called sequestor - spending cuts set to begin on Friday. There seems little urgency given the cuts don't all begin at once - and the issue does not involve taxes, a topic the American public as a whole is more sensitive to.

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Here's a look at some stocks moving on news this morning:

Royal Bank of Canada beat analysts' estimates in reported adjusted earnings of $1.38 a share, better than the $1.32 that was forecast by the Street. It also hiked its quarterly dividend. Shares opened up 1 per cent.

Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce adjusted earnings were $2.15 per share, up from $1.97 a year earlier and ahead of analysts' expectations of $2.08. It did not raise its dividend, however, which may have disappointed investors - shares are down 0.3 per cent.

Toronto-Dominion Bank earned $1.79-billion in the first quarter, up from $1.48-billion a year ago, and raised its dividend by 5 per cent. Adjusted earnings also beat Street forecasts. Shares are up 0.3 per cent.

Groupon shares are down 25 per cent after the daily-deals website warned late Wednesday that revenue for this quarter may below analysts' forecasts

J.C. Penney Co. shares are down 18 per cent after reporting a wider-than-expected fourth-quarter loss and disappointing sales.

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Sears Holdings Corp. reported stronger-than-expected quarterly results on tight cost controls. Shares are down 2.2 per cent, though, as sentiment in the retail sector right now is very weak.

Valeant Pharmaceuticals International Inc. reported both a fourth-quarter and full-year net loss. Shares opened down 0.7 per cent.

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About the Author
Investment Editor

Darcy Keith is The Globe and Mail's Investment Editor. He has been a business journalist since 1992 and joined the Report on Business in 2010 from Yahoo! Canada, where he was the senior editor of finance. More

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