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At the open: Markets climb ahead of latest Fed minutes release

Trader Richard Newman works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. The benchmark stock index has set a series of record highs.

Richard Drew/AP

North American markets were higher Wednesday, as traders awaited the release of the latest minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The S&P/TSX composite index jumped 21.29 points to 15,158.47, gaining strength from most sectors, particularly gold.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.11 of a cent to 93.77 cents (U.S.).

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Ottawa says it's ready to set up a national securities regulator, now that it has four provinces ready to sign on.

The new office will oversee financial markets in Canada, and is expected to be operation by the fall of 2015. Representatives of Saskatchewan and New Brunswick say they are joining Ontario and British Columbia in an agreement for the formation of a national body to jointly police securities and capital markets. The four provinces represent about 55 per cent of the value of capital markets.

The federal government has long called for the creation of this regulator, arguing that financial markets should be policed by one national body instead of the current patchwork of 13 regulators.

Shares of the TMX Group, the operator of the Toronto Stock Exchange, rose 0.21 per cent or 12 cents to $56.89.

On Wall Street, U.S. markets were higher following two days of closing in the red. The Dow Jones industrials gained 23.03 points to 16,929.65, the Nasdaq climbed 15.22 points to 4,406.68, while the S&P 500 was up 4.43 points to 1,968.14.

What will be of particular interest to traders will be what is contained in the latest minutes from the Fed's June meeting, which will be released at 2 p.m. ET Wednesday.

The minutes are not expected to have any surprises, but markets will still be looking for any signs that the Fed might be preparing to raise rates before mid-2015, or speed up the pace that it's scaling back its massive bond buying program. Most analysts will be more interested in the minutes from the next Fed meeting taking place July 30, to see how the central bank reacts to the strong U.S. job numbers in June.

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In corporate news, U.S. aluminum giant Alcoa started the second-quarter earnings season on Tuesday, reporting that it had a profit of $138-million, reversing a year-ago loss, and the results beat analysts' expectations. Alcoa has struggled in recent years with low aluminum prices and has increased its focus on making sheets and other products for manufacturers of airplanes and autos, who value aluminum for its light weight. Alcoa shares rose 2.63 per cent, or 40 cents, to $15.25 (U.S.) in New York.

Many Canadian companies will be reporting their second-quarter earnings this month and into August.

On the commodity markets, the August crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 81 cents to $102.59 a barrel. August bullion was up $7.40 to $1,323.90 an ounce, while September copper was up a penny to $3.25 a pound.

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