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At midday: Energy sector bulls push TSX higher

Pumpjacks at work pumping crude oil near Stettler, Alta., June 20, 2007. Alberta's oil pipeline hub, where millions of barrels of crude flow each day to pipelines that feed markets in Canada and the United States is a beehive of activity. Analysts expect many Canadian oil sands companies to surge, most notably Whitecap Resources.

Larry MacDougal/The Canadian Press

The Toronto stock market was higher late-morning Tuesday as a strong earnings report from oil sands giant Suncor Energy raised expectations for other energy companies reporting this week.

The S&P/TSX composite index climbed 53.12 points to 14,584.03.

Suncor posted operating earnings of $1.79-billion, or $1.22 per share, widely beating the average analyst expectation of 93 cents and its shares were up $1.49 or 3.6 per cent to $42.83.

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The Canadian dollar was up 0.52 of a cent to 91.22 cents (U.S.).

New York's Dow Jones industrials were up 73.98 points to 16,522.72.

The Nasdaq gained 15.89 points to 4,090.29 and the S&P 500 index rose 6.69 points to 1,876.12.

Investors also looked to the U.S. Federal Reserve, which wraps up its two-day meeting Wednesday. Policy makers are expected to further trim the central bank's bond-buying program and provide further insight into the state of the world's biggest economy.

Traders also look for further indications of when the Fed might start to raise short-term interest rates, which have been near zero since the financial crisis.

Suncor's performance helped send the energy sector up 1.85 per cent with June crude in New York up $1.15 to $101.99 (U.S.) a barrel.

Traders will be taking in earnings from other heavy hitters in the sector this week, including Cenovus and Canadian Natural Resources amid a sharp change in the fortunes for these companies.

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One of the improvements revolves around a sharp narrowing in the price between oil sands crude, Western Canadian Select, and West Texas Intermediate, the lighter crude used as a global benchmark.

"That narrowing has gone from roughly $31 the end of the fourth quarter last year to $21, so that's a 33 per cent improvement right there," observed John Stephenson, portfolio manager at First Asset Funds.

He also pointed out that the Canadian dollar has weakened during the quarter.

"So you have an industry where you're getting revenues in U.S. dollars and paying expenses in the lower Canadian currency, so you're making a spread there. And there's a record number of deals and activity happening in the oilsands so year to date. You have a lot of interest in the oilsands and in energy in Canada in general."

Elsewhere in the energy sector, Encana Corp. shares gained $1.03 to $26.09 (Canadian) as the company said that it is selling some natural gas properties in Texas to an undisclosed purchaser for about $530-million as the Calgary company continues to pare down its portfolio.

July copper was down two cents to $3.07 (U.S.) and the base metals sector drifted one per cent higher .

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Gold was up 50 cents to $1,299.50 an ounce and the sector was up 0.6 per cent.

In other corporate developments, Quebecor Inc. shares were 17 cents lower to $26.45 (Canadian) with the announcement that its president and chief executive is retiring. Robert Depatie, who was promoted to the post last May when Pierre Karl Peladeau stepped down, announced Monday that he was retiring for health reasons.

Power generation company TransAlta handed in net earnings of $49-million, or 18 cents per share, up $60-million from a net loss of $11-million, or four cents per share, in the same period last year. Revenues were at $775-million, up from $540-million year-over-year. Its shares gained 13 cents to $13.21.

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