TMXmoneyTMXmoney - invest with insight

Toronto stock market little changed amid lower gold and tech stocks

Malcolm Morrison, The Canadian Press

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market was little changed Friday afternoon at the end of a positive week, while gold and tech stocks moved firmly into negative territory.

The S&P/TSX composite index had been positive in the morning amid encouraging day-old economic data from the United States but by mid-afternoon was 0.69 of a point lower at 14,361.14.

The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.29 of a cent at 89.24 cents US in the wake of a better than expected reading on retail sales for January and slowing price pressures.

Statistics Canada said retail sales were up 1.3 per cent, against the 0.7 per cent rise that had been expected.

U.S. markets were also off the best levels of the session after data suggested that the country's economic growth should bounce back following a harsh winter.

The Dow Jones industrials rose 18.69 points to 16,349.74, while the Nasdaq fell 31.47 points to 4,287.82 and the S&P 500 index was down 2.34 points at 1,869.67.

The U.S. Conference Board’s index of leading indicators rose in February by the largest amount in three months. And a key manufacturing reading, the Philadelphia Fed's manufacturing index, rebounded in March from a negative reading in February.

The data helped persuade investors that the U.S. economy is strengthening to a point where it can withstand higher short-term interest rates.

"(The data) could have been a whole lot worse — all the talk earlier was that it was going to be a lot worse," said Fred Ketchen, manager of equity trading at ScotiaMcLeod.

"But when they finally get down to the numbers, they escaped a bit, we escaped along with them and it gives you a good feeling."

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen said Wednesday that the U.S. central bank could begin raising short-term rates six months after it halts its bond purchases around year's end. The Fed has been steadily cutting back on those purchases, a key element of stimulus that had kept long-term rates low, since December.

Economic optimism sent commodities higher, with May copper up two cents to US$2.95 a pound and the base metals sector gained 1.5 per cent.

The May crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange was up $1.01 to US$99.91 a barrel and the energy sector moved 0.6 per cent higher.

The consumer staples sector ahead 0.55 per cent as Loblaw Companies Ltd. (TSX:L) received approval from the Competition Bureau for its $12.4-billion purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. (TSX:SC), on the condition that it sell 18 stores and nine pharmacies. Loblaw shares rose 87 cents to $47.09 and while Shoppers gained 59 cents to $61.20.

The industrials sector was unchanged. Conductors, yard workers and other train workers at Canadian National Railways (TSX:CNR) have rejected a second tentative contract, prompting the company to suggest the talks go to a form of binding arbitration. Its shares were down 26 cents to $62.58.

The gold sector fell 0.9 per cent as the April gold contract gained $5.50 to US$1,336 an ounce after four days of declines as traders hoped the Ukraine crisis wouldn't worsen.

The tech sector fell one per cent and BlackBerry (TSX:BB) shares dropped 19 cents to $10.42 as it announced the sale of a majority of its real estate holdings in Canada. Terms of the deal and the buyer were not disclosed.