North American stock markets start April with broad-based rally, TSX at record close

TORONTO — It was no joke on April Fool's Day as the S&P 500 topped 4,000 points for the first time and North American stock markets rallied ahead of the Good Friday long weekend.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 289.65 points to a record close of 18,990.32 that's just shy of its all-time high.

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In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was up 171.66 points at 33,153.21. The S&P 500 index rose by 46.98 points at 4,019.87, while the Nasdaq composite was up 233.24 points at 13,480.11.

"So far we're off to a nice big start to the month. A new all-time high for the U.S. market and hopefully that will continue," said Colin Cieszynski, chief market strategist at SIA Wealth Management.

He attributed Thursday's gains to a combination of factors, including investors responding positively to U.S. President Joe Biden's US$2.3-trillion infrastructure plan, 10-year bond yields levelling off below 1.7 per cent, problems with a hedge fund not spreading and easing of inflation pressures.

"Generally speaking, some of the headwinds over the last week or so have kind of died down and some of the strengths are still there," he said in an interview.

Cieszynski said Biden's infrastructure plan was expected but the way it's paid for isn't as bad as feared.

Biden proposes to increase corporate taxes to 28 per cent from 21 per cent instead of increasing the capital gains or dividend taxes.

"They just did corporate taxes so I think the market took that favourably, because a capital-gains tax would have been a huge negative for investors."

The infrastructure plan is another stimulus package on top of the US$1.9-trillion plan recently passed by Congress. Biden is also expected to announce a second part of his infrastructure package likely to be worth about US$1 trillion.

Republicans have criticized the latest proposal, which could again be passed with just Democratic votes.

"My suspicion is that it will get through in some form. Maybe some things may be adjusted or some of the spending redirected but politicians aren't usually in the business of saying no to spending on infrastructure," said Cieszynski.

Thursday's stock market bounce was supported by good economic data, including Canadian and U.S. manufacturing numbers as well as a drop on the CBOE volatility index.

Surpassing 4,000 points is a "nice psychological" level for the S&P 500, he said.

"It just shows there's a lot of confidence and positive sentiment out there in the market."

And the TSX's strength is positive because it is continuing to follow the U.S. higher instead of lagging like last year, he added.

Health care was the lone sector on the TSX to fall, pulled down by a 1.7 per cent decrease by Aurora Cannabis Inc. and 1.5 per cent drop by Aphria Inc.

Materials, energy and technology led the market higher.

Higher gold prices helped the metals and mining sector to increase 3.2 per cent as shares of MAG Silver Corp., Nova Gold Resources Inc. and New Gold Inc. each climbed 6.2 per cent.

The June gold contract was up US$12.80 at US$1,728.40 an ounce and the May copper contract was down half a cent at US$3.99 a pound.

Cieszynski said the sector is getting a lift from Biden's infrastructure program and a general economic recovery that is driving demand for resources.

The energy sector also rose 3.2 per cent as crude oil prices increased 3.9 per cent after OPEC said it will gradually increase output over the next three months.

The May crude oil contract was up US$2.29 at US$61.45 per barrel and the May natural gas contract was up 3.1 cents at US$2.64 per mmBTU.

Shares of Cenovus Energy Inc. and Crescent Point Energy Corp. increased 4.5 and 4.2 per cent, respectively.

The Canadian dollar traded for 79.59 cents US compared with 79.52 cents US on Wednesday.

Technology enjoyed a "technical catch-up bounce" on lower bond yields that caused the sector to lose some ground in recent weeks.

Markets seemed to overlook a climb in U.S. employment benefit claims last week and new COVID lockdowns in Europe and Ontario.

"The stock market looks six to nine months ahead anyways and I think a lot of investors are probably looking and saying well six months from now we're at the end of the year, the vaccines will have rolled out and even if we did have a short-term lockdown now things should be opening up again in the spring and summer."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 1, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:MAG, TSX:NG, TSX:NGD, TSX:APHA, TSX:ACB, TSX:CVE, TSX:CPG, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X)

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