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A trader talks on the phone during a Spanish bond auction in Madrid, Oct. 18, 2012. (Andrea Comas/Reuters)

A trader talks on the phone during a Spanish bond auction in Madrid, Oct. 18, 2012.

(Andrea Comas/Reuters)

At midday: S&P 500 slump persists Add to ...

North American stocks were down in midday trading on Wednesday, pushing the U.S. benchmark index to a fresh three-month low.

Shortly after noon, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 89 points or 0.7 per cent, to 12,667. The braoder S&P 500 was down nearly 8 points or 0.6 per cent, to 1367. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 122 points or 1 per cent, to 12,013.

The moves fed into a weak stretch for stocks that has persisted since September but turned particularly rough after U.S. presidential elections last week.

The backdrop on Wednesday wasn’t supportive. U.S. retail sales in September fell 0.3 per cent, marking the first reversal in four months.

The euro zone’s industrial production in September fell 2.5 per cent from August, considerably worse than the 2 per cent retreat anticipated by economists.

In Europe, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 fell 1.1 per cent and Germany’s DAX index fell 0.9 per cent.

Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, said that the central bank would not act as a backstop if disagreements among politicians sends the United States off the so-called fiscal cliff – a horrific scenario of automatic tax increases and spending cuts that the White House and Congress are now frantically trying to avoid.

Within the S&P 500, utilities and materials were the biggest laggards, falling 1 per cent each. Industrials fell 0.9 per cent and financials fell 0.8 per cent.

Within Canada’s benchmark index, utilities fell 1.6 per cent, materials fell 1.5 per cent, energy stocks fell 0.6 per cent and financials fell 0.5 per cent.

However, key commodity prices were relatively stable. Gold rose to $1,728 (U.S.) an ounce, up nearly $3. Crude oil rose to $85.91 a barrel, up 53 cents.

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