The Toronto stock market was higher Thursday amid rising commodity prices and positive U.S. economic data.The S&P/TSX composite index gained 44.1 points to 12,652.92 while the TSX Venture Exchange dipped 0.73 of a point to 1,229.47.The Canadian dollar was up 0.07 of a cent to 101.48 cents US.U.S. indexes rose as weekly applications for unemployment benefits hit a five-year low and U.S. home construction surged last month.But the Dow industrial average was pressured by earnings disappointments in the banking sector and further Dreamliner woes for aircraft maker Boeing Inc. The blue chip index was up 53.85 points to 13,565.08.The Nasdaq composite index gained 13.06 points to 3,130.6 and the S&P 500 index rose 5.46 points to 1,478.09.Builders broke ground on U.S. houses and apartments at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 954,000 in December, up 12.1 per cent from November. The report capped off the best year for U.S. home construction since the real estate meltdown.“There is no denying that the housing market recovery is solidifying, and we expect construction activity to ramp up to the one million annualized threshold by the end of this year,” said TD Bank economist Michael Dolega, adding the improvement in the housing sector is good news for the jobs picture.“The strengthening housing recovery appears to have shown up in construction employment, which rose 30,000 in December. With sectoral employment down over two million off its 2006-07 peak, we expect the construction sector to add more than half-million jobs over the course of this year.”Weekly unemployment benefit applications in the U.S. fell 37,000 to a seasonally adjusted 335,000. That’s comparable to numbers seen just after the recession began.The weekly numbers are subject to a lot of seasonal volatility, but the overall trend suggests an improving landscape.Boeing shares lost further ground, down 0.9 per cent per cent after American and European authorities grounded the company’s 787 Dreamliner, its newest and most technologically advanced airliner, until the risk of battery fires is resolved. The plane makers stock dropped 3.4 per cent the day before.Japan’s two largest air carriers voluntarily grounded their 787s on Wednesday following an emergency landing by one of the planes in Japan.On the earnings front, Bank of America was dragged down by mortgage settlements in the fourth quarter, though it had already warned its shareholders of that. But it fell well short on revenue expectations and shares edged down three per cent.Citigroup registered a big earnings miss, with earnings per share of 69 cents ex-items against the 96 cents that analysts had expected and its shares were down 2.8 per cent.The consumer discretionary sector led TSX gainers, paced by strength in auto parts companies. Linamar Corp. (TSX:LNR) gained 69 cents to $26.10 while Magna International (TSX:MG) climbed 86 cents to $53.The base metals sector was up 0.5 per cent as March copper on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose five cents to US$3.65 a pound. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) rose 23 cents to C$21.14.The chief executive of mining giant Rio Tinto PLC and another senior executive are stepping down after the company announced huge writedowns from its Alcan aluminum business and an acquisition of a coal company in Mozambique.The company disclosed that it will take an impairment charge of approximately $14 billion in its 2012 results to be published on Feb. 14, including about $3 billion on the acquisition of Rio Tinto Coal Mozambique, and $10 billion or more on the value of Rio’s aluminum assets, primarily Alcan. Its shares were off 11 cents to US$54.92 in New York.Oil prices headed higher, building on Wednesday’s gain of almost $1 after the U.S. Energy Information Administration said crude supplies declined by one million barrels last week. Analysts polled by Platts expected a 2.5-million-barrel climb.The February crude contract gained $1.05 to US$95.29 a barrel and the energy gained 0.4 per cent. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) advanced 27 cents to C$29.01.Prices were also supported by an attack on a natural gas plant deep in the Sahara desert in Algeria. Islamist militants are holding dozens of hostages.The tech sector gained 0.35 per cent with CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) ahead 38 cents to $24.54.Telecoms were generally higher with BCE Inc. (TSX:BCE) up 23 cents to $42.89.The gold sector was the only TSX decliner, down a slight 0.3 per cent as February bullion erased early losses to gain $3.30 to US$1,686.50 an ounce. Kinross Gold Corp. (TSX:K) faded eight cents to C$9.41.Looking ahead to Friday, traders waited for China’s growth data to help assess the strength of the global economy. China will release fourth-quarter growth data for 2012 as well as overall GDP figures for the year.In other corporate developments, Sun Life Financial Inc. (TSX:SLF) and the Malaysian state investment company are teaming up to purchase 98 per cent of a Malaysian life insurance company. Sun Life and Khazanah Nasional are purchasing the CIMB Aviva Assurance life insurance company as well as CIMB Aviva Takaful for a total shared cost of $586 million. Sun Life shares gained 28 cents to $28.22.H&R Real Estate Investment Trust (TSX:HR.UN) plans to acquire Primaris Retail REIT (TSX:(PMZ.UN) in a cash and stock deal valued at some $2.8 billion. Primaris owns 35 properties across Canada, including shopping centres in Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario comprising some 14.7 million square feet. H&R units lost 47 cents to $23.32 while Primaris units added 18 cents to $26.69.European bourses were higher as London’s FTSE 100 index rose 0.39 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX was up 0.49 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 advanced 0.67 per cent.
The Triggs International Premium Vinifera Lecture Series marked its 10th event of sharing industry insight by bringing together a record crowd to learn between the grape vines.Grape growers and wine industry professionals rang in the 10th instalment of the series in the heart of Ontario wine country on Aug. 3 and 4, and in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley on Aug. 8 and 9. More than 200 people attended over the four days, making this one of the most successful years for the series since it began in 2004.Organized by Brock University’s Cool Climate Oenology and Viticulture Institute (CCOVI), this year’s instalment featured Stefano Poni, Professor of Viticulture and Chair of the Instituto of Frutti-Viticoltura of the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore of Piacenza, Italy.Bringing an international speaker of his calibre to the lecture series is an important part of CCOVI’s mandate to support the grape and wine industry in Canada, said Director Debbie Inglis. “Stefano shared a wealth of knowledge about canopy management strategies taking place at home and abroad,” she said. “Hosting an international viticulture expert in key winemaking regions in Ontario and British Columbia allows our growers and winemakers to collaboratively discuss strategies to further advance and grow the industry on a national level.”Poni said he was honoured to be selected as the featured speaker, as the event provided a unique opportunity for industry professionals from different regions to learn from each other.“It was a great opportunity to assess if our research work, carried out on a somewhat different climatic area in Italy, could also be beneficial to Canadian viticulture,” Poni explained. “It was also a learning experience in terms of topics specific to the environment, such as the emphasis on cold winter injury here in Canada.”He met with more than 100 industry professionals from across the region at four vineyards near Niagara-on-the-Lake on the first day of the series, discussing the impacts of vine spacing, canopy density and leaf removal on overall crop development. The next day, Poni summarized the discussions held during the vineyard tours in a public lecture at Brock’s Pond Inlet.After his stop in Ontario, Poni headed to British Columbia for the second leg of the series. He met with more than 100 growers and members of the wine industry at four different sites, including a research vineyard and organically grown site. Although his public lecture the next day had similarities to the discussion held in Ontario, Poni catered his talk to the specific climate and growing conditions on the West Coast.He said it was important to tailor his discussions to the different regions and provide specific solutions to specific cases, instead of following a ‘rule of thumb’ approach.“Applying sound physiological principles is a winning approach to viticulture issues pertaining to quite different viticulture districts,” he said.To ensure the national lecture series continues to be held in two key wine-producing regions, BASF Canada, a company that provides crop protection products, again stepped in to sponsor and support the event.“BASF is pleased to be able to continue our support of the Triggs Lecture Series through its 10th anniversary and to be able to give the series its national scope,” said Scott Hodgins, Crop Manager for Horticulture, Professional and Specialty Solutions at BASF Canada. “As Dr. Poni shared with our grower customers who attended, canopy management is a key factor in producing the high-quality grapes that go into excellent Canadian wines, and I believe he introduced some new ideas that will further develop our industry.”Donald Triggs, the industry leader who co-founded the lecture series with his wife Elaine Triggs through a generous endowment, is pleased with the event’s continued success.He credits the hard work of CCOVI and Brock University in providing this valuable learning opportunity and building working partnerships that help advance the industry. “We need support to continue to develop the real potential of our wine industry and the technical resources that these institutions provide are very valuable to achieving that,” he said.For anyone unable to attend, the Ontario public lecture and presentation slides are now available online.