TORONTO — The Toronto stock market closed slightly higher Wednesday amid another sign of a slowing Chinese economy and little in the minutes from the latest U.S. Federal Reserve meeting to indicate when the central bank might move on relaxing its economic stimulus program.Here are the closing numbers TSX — 12,306.93 +9.84 0.08% S&P 500 — 1,652.62 +0.30 0.02% Dow — 15,291.66 -8.68 -0.06% Nasdaq — 3,520.76 +16.50 0.47%The S&P/TSX composite index moved 9.84 points higher to 12,306.93.The minutes echoed earlier remarks by Fed chairman Ben Bernanke, indicating that that Fed would likely slow its bond purchases later this year and end them around mid-2014 if the economy continued to strengthen.“Not a great many surprises overall,” observed CIBC World Markets senior economist Peter Buchanan.“The committee also discussed the need to differentiate between the tapering of QE and actual rates hikes. Once again emphasizing that there will likely be a considerable time between the end of QE and the first increase in target yields.”The TSX got some lift from the energy sector with oil prices at a 15-month high.Oil ran ahead $2.99 to US$106.52 a barrel, the highest close since late March, 2012 as the American Petroleum Institute said that U.S. crude inventories fell by nine million barrels last week, much higher than the 3.8-million-barrel drop that analysts had expected.The Canadian dollar rose while the greenback weakened following the release of the Fed minutes, rising 0.08 of a cent to 95.08 cents US.U.S. indexes were generally lacklustre as the minutes showed that about half of the Fed’s 19 member policy-making committee said they would support ending its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program late this year. But many agreed at the meeting last month that the job market’s improvement would have to be sustained before the Fed would reduce its bond purchases.The meeting was held prior to the release of a stronger-than-expected U.S. employment report for June which came out last Friday.The Dow Jones industrials closed down 8.68 points to 15,291.66, while the Nasdaq was 16.5 points higher to 3,520.76. The S&P 500 index edged up 0.3 of a point at 1,652.62.The stimulus from the U.S. has kept interest rates low to encourage borrowing and spending. It has also been a major factor in driving stocks higher, so the prospect of tapering has caused market volatility in recent weeks.Recently, however, investors have been focusing on improvements in the U.S. economy, such as the recent jobs report for June that blew past expectations.“We know that it isn’t going to last forever,” said Fred Ketchen, manager of equity trading at ScotiaMcLeod.“And when it starts to be cut back, it’s not going to be a case of slamming the door and it’s cut off. It would be in stages of course.”Traders hoped for more clues about Fed intentions with Bernanke scheduled to deliver a speech late Wednesday afternoon.Meanwhile, the most recent concerns about the health of the world’s second-biggest economy grew after the release of disappointing trade data.China’s exports fell by 3.1% in June compared with a year earlier and imports contracted by 0.7%, customs data showed Wednesday. Both were below forecasts of growth in the low single digits.The report was issued a day after the International Monetary Fund scaled back this year’s growth forecast for China to 7.8% from 8.1%.Commodity markets were higher despite the glum Chinese data.The energy sector rose 0.72% as a larger-than-expected drop in oil supplies suggested stronger demand and underlined the signs of economic recovery in the U.S.Growing unrest in Egypt has also helped support oil prices, which haven’t traded above $105 since May 2012. Shares in Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) advanced 70 cents to C$32.67.The consumers staples sector was also positive as shares in convenience store giant Alimentation Couche-Tard (TSX:ATD.B) and drugstore operator Jean Coutu Group clawed back losses sustained Tuesday in the wake of poorly received earnings reports.Couche-Tard gained $3.65 or 6.26% to $62 while Jean Coutu climbed 54 cents or 3.1% to $17.98.The gold sector was slightly higher as August bullion gained $1.50 to US$1,247.40 an ounce. Kinross Gold (TSX:K) was up six cents to C$4.87.The base metals sector was down 0.8% while September copper gained three cents to US$3.09 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) declined 55 cents to C$21.84.The utilities sector was off 0.9%. Fortis Inc. (TSX:FTS) slipped 37 cents to $32.05.The tech sector also fell with BlackBerry (TSX:BB) down 40 cents or 3.92% to $9.80 a day after chief executive Thorsten Heins asked shareholders for patience as the company pushes ahead with its goal to become profitable again. It was the first time the stock has sunk below $10 since late November. What investors were watching today:BlackBerry Ltd renews hunt for partners to regain lost market shareFed looks to more job gains before tapering QEApple colluded with five big publishers to drive up prices of e-books, judge rules in antitrust caseWorried about China? Here’s what the ‘Super-Bear’ scenario looks likeWHAT’S ON DECK THURSDAY ECONOMIC NEWSCANADA8:30 a.m.New housing price index (May): Economists expect 0.2% rise from the month before, 1.9% year over year UNITED STATES8:30 a.m.Weekly jobless claims: Economists expect 340,000 new claims, slightly down from last week Trade price indices (June): Economists expect no changed from month before, 0.4% gain year over year 2 p.m.Treasury Budget (June):
East Sussex Fire and Rescue confirmed the incident was “not expected to recur” but said they were still trying to identify the cause of the cloud.A spokesman for Sussex Police said neither the source or the nature of the gas cloud had still not been identified but said reports that it may have originated in France were “very unlikely”.He said: “Neither the gas nor its source have been established, but agencies are continuing to investigate and have not ruled out either onshore or offshore locations, although it does appear that it did sweep in from the sea driven by onshore breezes. Other suggestions have included an industrial accident along the coast, a contaminated shipping tanker washing ashore, or even the build-up of harmful algae.Dr Simon Boxall, of the National Oceanography Centre in Southampton, said: “If the reports from the public are to be relied on, it is weird that the “cloud” rolled in from the West. This is against the very light winds which should have driven in from the east. This implies a water borne cause. “The conditions yesterday were ideal for the development of a toxic algal bloom – very calm, high light levels, and a period of moderate runoff inputting high levels of nutrients into the sea for the preceding weeks.” Visitors to Birling Gap complained of vomiting, stinging eyes and sore throatsCredit:Twitter @Kyle_Crickmore He said US studies had shown cases where toxins from harmful algae can form clouds and drift ashore. “However, weather models suggest that an onshore source in northern France is very unlikely.”Police said the gas cloud had now dissipated and advice to keep windows and doors closed had been withdrawn. Around 150 people were treated at Eastbourne hospital after the mist past over Credit: EDDIE MITCHELL Beachy Head Lighthouse surrounded by mist on Sunday afternoon when the haze came ashoreCredit:SOCIAL MEDIA Henry Prout of Newhaven RNLI said: “The gas could have come from a container dropped at sea many, many years ago whose seal has finally broken or it could have come from a vessel doing a chemical clean, which is prohibited in maritime law.“Whatever the cause it is going to be extremely difficult to identify the source.” An algal bloom in The Channel may have been behind the mystery noxious haze that drifted ashore and left around 150 people needing hospital treatment, it has been suggested.Police and scientists are still trying to identify the source of the mystery gas cloud that left people with vomiting, stinging eyes and sore throats when it came ashore on the Sussex coast at Birling Gap, near Beachy Head.Emergency services at first pointed to a possible industrial leak in northern France, but then said wind patterns showed the cloud came from The Channel or further along the English coast. He said: “These cause respiratory problems and irritation, particularly in those with Asthma. It’s a long shot but the evidence points in that direction.”One scientist, who declined to be named, said: “The only possibility I can think of is that it might be a container of chemicals washed off a ship and ruptured. It might not necessarily be chlorine as there are other chemicals which produce a similar smell and reaction when mixed with water.” Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.