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At midday: S&P 500 flirts with 1,500 as selloff persists Add to ...

North American stocks remained weak in midday trading on Thursday, a day after the U.S. benchmark sustained its worst dip since mid-November.

The S&P 500 was down 11 points or 0.7 per cent, to 1,501 – recovering some lost ground after briefly dipping below the 1500-point threshold. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average was down 71 points or 0.5 per cent, to 13,857. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 75 points or 0.6 per cent, to 12,640.

The declines follow a selloff on Wednesday afternoon, following the release of minutes from the Federal Reserve’s last monetary policy meeting. Those minutes suggested that the central bank might not be committed to open-ended economic stimulus, raising concerns about whether the U.S. economy can grow without policy help.

On Thursday, U.S. initial jobless claims for the period ended last week rose to 362,000, up 20,000, disappointing expectations.

As well, the Philadelphia-area manufacturing survey showed a decrease in activity last month, versus expectations for a slight increase.

However, the economic news wasn’t all bad: U.S. existing home sales rose 0.4 per cent in January, beating expectations for a decrease in sales. And U.S. inflation, as measured by the consumer price index, rose 1.6 per cent year-over-year, matching expectations and demonstrating that inflation is not a threat.

Within the S&P 500, energy stocks, industrials and materials fell 1 per cent each. Technology stocks fell 0.9 per cent and financials fell 0.8 per cent.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. rose 2.7 per cent after its fourth quarter earnings beat expectations and the retailer boosted its dividend by 18 per cent.

Within Canada’s benchmark index, financials fell 0.4 per cent and industrials fell 1.2 per cent. Materials, recently bashed with the decline in the gold price, rose 0.7 per cent.

Bombardier Inc. fell 6.5 per cent after reporting a 93 per cent slide in its fourth quarter net earnings – and even after adjusting for some one-time items, its earnings missed analysts’ expectations.

Tim Hortons Inc. fell 3.4 per cent after reporting flat fourth-quarter earnings of 65 cents a share that missed analysts’ expectations for 72 cents a share. As well, full-year same-store sales growth missed the company’s target.

In Europe, stocks were hit hard: The U.K.’s FTSE 100 fell 1.6 per cent and Germany’s DAX index fell 1.9 per cent.

Among commodities, crude oil fell to $92.90 (U.S.) a barrel, down $2.32. Gold rose to $1,580 an ounce, up $2.

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