TORONTO - Canada's main stock index was relatively flat Thursday despite gains in the energy sector as crude prices partially recovered from recent weakness.
The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 15.48 points to 21,637.54.
Energy, industrials and real estate were the three best performing sectors on the day.
Energy gained nearly one percentage point as crude and natural gas moved higher at the beginning of the winter heating season. That helped shares of Enerplus Corp. and Cenovus Energy Inc. to increase 3.2 and 2.7 per cent, respectively.
The January crude oil contract was up 86 cents at US$78.41 per barrel and the December natural gas contract was up 8.6 cents at US$4.90 per mmBTU.
Crude rose despite chatter that the United States and several countries including China, Japan and South Korea could put some of their oil reserves on the market to quell rising gasoline prices.
"By signalling that they might release some crude onto the market, I think they can influence prices in the short term. Obviously that can't be sustained," said Les Stelmach, portfolio manager at Franklin Templeton Canada.
That's especially true because the U.S. strategic petroleum reserve is below last year's level and the five-year average with around 600 million barrels, roughly a one-month supply, he said in an interview.
"They're obviously not going to run that down to zero. We're talking about changes at the margin, and I think it's just more of a rhetorical tool to try and talk down oil prices."
Ultimately, there's little that can be done long-term because pushing too hard could provoke an offsetting response by OPEC and its allies, which are slowly adding supply but have rebuffed the request for bigger increases.
Higher prices are also prompting other oil-producing countries, including Canada, to increase output.
"It's certainly not back to its pre-pandemic levels, but it's starting to work its way back up ... We only have to look back something like 18 months and we were in kind of a famine situation with oil prices being extremely low."
The industrials sector was helped by a 2.8 per cent increase in Bombardier Inc. shares and a recovery in Canada's two largest railways after being sold off over concerns about network disruptions from flooding in British Columbia.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. and Canadian National Railway Co. shares were each up 1.1 per cent.
"I think historically the rails have been pretty good at responding to crises and pretty sophisticated with trying to optimize networks even in periods where you know of some difficulty," said Stelmach.
Health care was the big laggard, losing 6.6 per cent as shares of Tilray Inc., Cronos Group Inc. and Aurora Cannabis Inc. were each down about 12 per cent.
Materials lost nearly one percentage point as gold prices fell after enjoying a rally in response to high inflation.
The December gold contract was down US$8.80 at US$1,861.40 an ounce and the December copper contract was up 3.9 cents at US$4.30 a pound.
The Canadian dollar traded for 79.27 cents US compared with 79.40 cents US on Wednesday.
In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 60.10 points at 35,870.95. The S&P 500 index was up 15.87 points at 4,704.54, while the Nasdaq composite was up 72.14 points at 15,993.71.
U.S. retailers continued to report strong quarterly results and issued positive outlooks that signal a good holiday shopping season.
Thursday's earnings by Macy's, Kohl's and Victoria's Secret signal that consumers are satisfying pent-up demand from COVID-19, said Stelmach.
The improvement can be extrapolated to also apply to Canada's retail sector with U.S. consumption patterns running ahead of those in Canada because retail reopened faster south of the border.
Anecdotally, he said some of the increased activity could be people shopping for Christmas early out of fear that products won't be available later because of supply chain disruptions.
"It might pull demand forward if anything. I don't think it's a net increase in demand, but it could be the reason some of these numbers are coming in a bit better than people have thought."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 18, 2021.
Companies in this story: (TSX:ERF, TSX:CVE, TSX:TLRY, TSX:CRON, TSX:ACB, TSX:BBD.B, TSX:CNR, TSX:CP, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X) =X)