By Alastair Sharp
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index rose on Wednesday, helped by oil and gas shares, as U.S. data pointed to a jump in business spending plans, while gold miners fell as bullion tumbled.
Among the leading lights on the index were several oil and gas companies active in Canada's western oil fields, including Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (Toronto:CNQ.TO - News), which gained 1.9 percent to C$30.98, and Enbridge Inc (Toronto:ENB.TO - News), which added 1.6 percent to C$45.54.
"I'm not sure that this is the beginning of a major sea change in energy, but it's certainly nice to get a bit of a bounce," said Paul Hand, managing director at RBC Capital Markets.
Domestic energy producers have in recent months felt the pinch of a deep discount for Canadian oil.
The financial sector also added to the index's gains, despite some of its main banking constituents struggling to shake off a pessimistic reading from Bank of Montreal's (Toronto:BMO.TO - News) better-than-expected earnings.
"The retail numbers within BMO's numbers were a little squishy and people immediately extrapolated a sample of one to the other four or five," Hand said.
Four more major Canadian banks -- Royal Bank of Canada (Toronto:RY.TO - News), Toronto Dominion Bank (Toronto:TD.TO - News), Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (Toronto:CM.TO - News), and National Bank of Canada (Toronto:NA.TO - News) -- are due to report earnings on Thursday morning.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index (.GSPTSE) ended up 71.95 points, or 0.57 percent, at 12,732.39. Seven of the 10 main sectors on the index were higher.
The market was supported by data signaling a healthier U.S. economy: a gauge of planned U.S. business spending recorded its biggest gain in more than a year and another report indicated the housing market continues to strengthen.
GOLD WEIGHS, ITALY DOWNPLAYED
That helped alleviate uncertainty on world markets spurred by the inconclusive results of this week's parliamentary elections in Italy.
"You have strong durable goods orders that are indicating that the U.S. economy is on the right track," said Philip Petursson, managing director in the portfolio advisory group at Manulife Asset Management. "That, at the end of the day, will be of greater benefit to the markets than what goes on in Italy."
The materials sector, which includes mining stocks, slipped 0.4 percent, with the world's largest gold producer, Barrick Gold (Toronto:ABX.TO - News) falling 1.4 percent to C$31.63, making it the heaviest weight on the index.
The next five heaviest weights were also gold miners.
The price of bullion fell 1 percent, reversing course after a big one-day gain on Tuesday, as pending deep U.S. spending cuts stoked deflation worries.
North American equities were broadly boosted by Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's defense of the central bank's stimulus efforts.
In company news, Sears Canada Inc (Toronto:SCC.TO - News) said its fourth-quarter profit fell 3 percent on lower sales of hardware and home electronic goods. The retailer's shares dropped nearly 5 percent to C$8.85.
(Additional reporting by John Tilak; Editing by Bob Burgdorfer)