By John Tilak
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index ended higher for a seventh straight session on Wednesday as bullish Chinese trade data eased economic growth concerns and as U.S. lawmakers reached a deal on debt ceiling limits, resolving a long-standing impasse.
Market optimism spurred by the U.S. and Chinese news offset sharp declines in shares of Air Canada and Rogers Communications Inc after the two companies reported quarterly results.
Data showing that Chinese import growth in January touched a six-month high relieved some worries about the health of the world's second-biggest economy. The upbeat numbers helped push up oil prices and the shares of energy companies.
News that the U.S. Congress had approved a one-year extension of federal borrowing authority provided further support to the market.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's benchmark index, up about 2 percent this year, touched its highest level in nearly three weeks, suggesting that the market might have overcome a surge in volatility triggered by worries about turmoil in emerging markets.
"The numbers in China were a positive. Investors are taking some comfort in that," said Elvis Picardo, strategist at Global Securities in Vancouver.
"Overall it seems like some of the panic that was induced by the emerging markets seems to have dissipated," he added. "The buying has come in, and that's a good thing."
The S&P/TSX composite index <.GSPTSE> closed up 19.50 points, or 0.14 percent, at 13,900.49.
Canadian equities are starting to look more attractive than U.S. stocks as the resource-sensitive market is likely to benefit from an uptick in the global economy, said Picardo, who sees double-digit growth for the TSX in 2014.
Five of the 10 main sectors on the index were higher on Wednesday.
Financials, the index's most heavily weighted sector, gained 0.7 percent. Manulife Financial Corp advanced 2.1 percent to C$20.91, and Bank of Nova Scotia climbed 0.5 percent to C$62.33.
With a rise in the price of U.S. crude oil, energy shares added 1.2 percent. In the group, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd was up 2.2 percent at C$38.50.
Shares of Air Canada tumbled 20.5 percent to C$6.22 after the carrier said it expected weakness in the Canadian dollar and adverse weather conditions to hurt core earnings in the current quarter. The stock had the biggest percentage decline on the index.
Rogers Communications reported declines in quarterly profit and revenue, hurt by government-mandated changes to its wireless pricing strategy and the cost of broadcasting more hockey games. The stock gave back 5.3 percent to C$43.28.
Shares of Canada Bread Co jumped 7.3 percent to C$72.20 after the company said Mexico's Grupo Bimbo will buy it for C$1.83 billion ($1.66 billion) in cash.
(Editing by Peter Galloway)