By Fergal Smith
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's benchmark stock index posted its highest close in nearly two weeks on Thursday as stronger oil prices drove gains for energy companies, while food retailer Empire Company Ltd got a boost from stronger-than-expected results.
The energy group, which accounts for 20 percent of the Toronto market's weight, climbed 1.2 percent.
"It came out of the gates strong" said Bruce Latimer, senior equity trader at Eight Capital. "People are waiting to see if this move in energy is for real."
Energy has rallied for four straight days but is down 18 percent for the year.
U.S. crude prices settled 1.2 percent higher at $49.89 a barrel after the International Energy Agency said a global oil surplus was shrinking. It touched its highest intraday since May at $50.50. [O/R]
"We always like to see it on the right side of $50," Latimer said.
Encana Corp added 2.7 percent to C$12.73 and Suncor Energy Inc advanced 1.7 percent to C$41.63.
Empire, the parent company of the Sobeys grocery chain, soared 14.5 percent to C$22.61 after reporting adjusted earnings and revenue that beat analyst expectations.
Global automotive supplier Magna International Inc rose 3.7 percent to C$62.08.
Gains for Magna came as Sweden's Autoliv said it planned to split into two listed companies, with one focused on high-tech safety gear to capture the rapid growth towards self-driving vehicles.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index <.GSPTSE> closed up 45.91 points, or 0.3 percent, at 15,172.72, its highest close since Sept 1.
The materials group, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, rose 0.4 percent, helped by higher gold prices.
Gold rebounded from a two-week low as North Korea threatened the United States and Japan, and the U.S. dollar <.DXY> softened.
In contrast, copper prices hit a four-week low as disappointing data from China pointed to slowing demand from the metal's top consumer. [MET/L]
Teck Resources , which produces copper, fell 1.5 percent to C$26.29.
Toronto-Dominion Bank was up 0.3 percent at C$67.27 after the U.S. Federal Reserve approved its acquisition of Scottrade Financial Services, as expected.
Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd moved up 1.1 percent to C$193.74 and Canadian National Railway Co added 0.6 percent to C$98.64, a day after both operators spoke optimistically about grain volumes for the rest of the year.
Of the index's 10 main groups, just telecom lost ground. It declined 0.7 percent.
(Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by W Simon and Diane Craft)