North American markets rise ahead of key Federal Reserve meeting on rate cuts

TORONTO - North American markets moved slightly higher to start the week on gains by the energy and materials sectors as investors await signals from the Federal Reserve on expected rate cuts.

Overall it was a quiet day, says Craig Fehr, a Canadian markets strategist with Edward Jones.

"I think that we're probably going to see a little bit of hesitation until we get to the Fed meeting to the mid-part of this week, which is really the headliner in terms of news and likely the key driver for market response this week," he said in an interview.

Expectations are for the Fed to cut interest rates at least twice this year, but not likely at Wednesday's meeting.

"But I do think that we're going to start to see some commentary and some groundwork be laid from the Federal Reserve in terms of their expectations for future rate moves."

While the U.S. central bank never fully telegraphs its future moves because it responds to recent data, Fehr said he believes it's important for it to articulate what it's looking at and the measures that would prompt it to respond.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed up 51.54 points to 16,353.45 as all but one of the 11 major sectors were positive.

Energy led, gaining 1.45 per cent, as shares of Encana Corp. and Cenovus Energy Inc. climbed 3.4 and three per cent respectively.

The sector rose despite a decrease in oil prices as energy stocks haven't moved in lock-step with prices this year. The energy sector is up 11 per cent so far in 2019 but prices are down more than 20 per cent from the April highs.

The July crude contract was down 58 cents at US$51.93 per barrel and the July natural gas contract was down one tenth of a cent at US$2.39 per mmBTU.

Fehr said the weakness in oil prices isn't surprising given the slower outlook for the global economy and trade wars potentially heating up between the U.S. and China.

"So on a day when there's not a particular catalyst I think that downward moves in oil prices are largely reflecting the fact that the two largest consumers of oil, the two largest economies are continuing to face some headwinds as we move through the year."

Health care also rose on gains by some cannabis companies, such as the Cronos Group Inc., while materials was higher led by Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. and Centerra Gold Inc.

The growth came despite lower gold prices as the August gold contract was down US$1.60 at US$1,342.90 an ounce while the July copper contract was up 1.7 cents at US$2.65 a pound.

The Canadian dollar traded for an average of 74.59 cents US compared with an average of 74.71 cents US on Friday.

Telecommunications fell slightly on the day as both Telus Corp and BCE Inc. were down.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 22.92 points at 26,112.53. The S&P 500 index was up 2.69 points at 2,889.67, while the Nasdaq composite was up 48.37 points at 7,845.02.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CRON, TSX:TRQ, TSX:CG, TSX:ECA, TSX:CVE, TSX:T, TSX:BCE, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X)

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