The Toronto stock market held onto a small advance mid-morning Wednesday after resource giant Alcoa Inc. delivered a positive earnings report and outlook.The S&P/TSX composite index gained 12.18 points to 12,516.99, held back by another round of losses in the gold sector, while the TSX Venture Exchange climbed 5.77 points to 1,231.15 amid some major corporate dealmaking.Progress Energy awarded a $5-billion contract to TransCanada Corp. (TSX:TRP) that will see the pipeline company design, build, own and operate the proposed Prince Rupert Gas Transmission project. The project will carry gas from northeastern British Columbia to a proposed export facility near Prince Rupert.Progress, recently acquired by Malaysia’s state-owned energy company, plans to export liquefied natural gas from the port to markets in energy-hungry Asian markets. TransCanada shares climbed 73 cents to $47.98.The Canadian dollar was up 0.05 of a cent to 101.4 cents US amid data showing slightly fewer housing starts last month.Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. reported that December starts came in at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 197,976. That was down slightly from 201,376 in November but still higher than the 195,000 that economists had expected.CMHC said the decline was due to fewer starts in rural areas of the country while Canadian urban starts remained stable.U.S. indexes were positive after Alcoa reported results after the close Tuesday, meeting expectations of quarterly earnings of six cents a share. Revenue of US$5.9 billion beat expectations by $300 million and Alcoa predicted a seven per cent increase in demand this year, slightly better than the six per cent increase in 2012.Alcoa is viewed as a bellwether for the overall economy since its products are used in everything from cars to aircraft to appliances. Its shares were off early highs, up four cents to US$9.14 in New York.The Dow Jones industrials gained 83.73 points to 13,412.58, the Nasdaq was up 17.14 points to 3,108.95 while the S&P 500 index was ahead 7.31 points to 1,464.46.In Canadian earnings news, Shaw Communications Inc. (TSX:SJR.B) says it had $235 million or 50 cents per share of net income in the three months ended Nov. 30. Revenue was $1.32 billion. The results beat consensus estimates compiled ahead of Shaw’s quarterly report, which was issued before shareholders of the cable, Internet and media company gather for their annual meeting in Calgary. Shaw shares gained seven cents to $22.61.Industrials led TSX advancers, up 0.55 per cent with Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) ahead seven cents to $3.93 while WestJet Airlines (TSX:WJA) climbed 22 cents to $20.54. Commodity prices were mixed.The energy component was ahead 0.2 per cent while February crude drifted 31 cents higher to US$93.46 a barrel ahead of the weekly U.S. inventory report. Data for the week ended Jan. 4 is expected to show a rise of 1.5 million barrels for crude oil and an increase of 2.6 million barrels in gasoline stocks, according to a survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos. The Energy Department’s Energy Information Administration releases its crude inventories report later Wednesday.Talisman Energy (TSX:TLM) advanced 18 cents to $11.94 and Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) advanced 31 cents to $43.54.The metals and mining sector was also up about 0.2 per cent while March copper on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained three cents to US$3.70 a pound. Turquoise Hill Resources (TSX:TRQ) gained 14 cents to C$9.01.First Quantum Minerals Ltd. (TSX:FM) is sending its takeover offer for Inmet Mining Corp. (TSX:IMN) directly to the copper miner‘s shareholders. First Quantum said last month that it had increased its offer of $72 per Inmet share, half in cash, half in stock, for a total offer worth about $5.1 billion.Inmet’s board rejected the initial $4.9 billion stock and cash offer in November. At the time, Inmet said the “highly conditional offer” was not in the best interest of its shareholders. First Quantum dipped 30 cents to $21.24 while Inmet gained 57 cents to $72.82.The gold sector was down 0.6 per cent while February bullion lost $4.50 to US$1,657.70 an ounce. Kinross Gold (TSX:K) faded 10 cents to C$9.29 and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) declined 55 cents to $35.26.Bullion and gold stocks have suffered in recent days because of uncertainty about whether the U.S. Federal Reserve might end its stimulus program of bond buying in the second half of 2013.Minutes from the Fed’s latest policy meeting showed a split over how long to continue the purchases amid concerns that they could destabilize the economy. The bond buying, known as quantitative easing, has supported bullion prices because of worries the program would drive inflation higher.European bourses were higher with London’s FTSE 100 index up 0.95 per cent. Germany’s DAX added 0.44 per cent after official figures showed industrial production rose less than expected in November. The 0.2 per cent gain was also not enough to offset a two per cent fall the previous month and means economic output in Europe’s largest economy overall likely fell in the fourth quarter. The Paris CAC 40 climbed 0.3 per cent.