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Even if we are indeed trapped in a prolonged period of low growth, there are some steps investors can take to protect themselves. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS) (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)
Even if we are indeed trapped in a prolonged period of low growth, there are some steps investors can take to protect themselves. Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS) (Brendan McDermid/Reuters)

At midday: Stocks down despite upbeat retail sales Add to ...

North American stocks were down in midday trading on Wednesday, despite an upbeat reading on U.S. retail sales.

The S&P 500 was down less than 1 point to 1552. The blue-chip Dow Jones industrial average, which has risen for eight straight sessions, was down 8 points or less than 0.1 per cent, to 14,442. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 93 points or 0.7 per cent, to 12,785.

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The moves follow a better-than-expected reading on U.S. retail sales last month. The Commerce Department reported that sales rose 1.1 per cent in February, well ahead of expectations and the biggest gain in five months – demonstrating consumer resilience even with higher payroll taxes.

Economists responded with upbeat expectations for U.S. economic growth in the fourth quarter. Toronto-Dominion Bank estimates growth will rebound to 2.5 per cent, while CIBC World Markets believes growth will hit 3 per cent, at an annualized pace. U.S. gross domestic product grew just 0.1 per cent in the fourth quarter, according to its last revision.

Within the S&P 500, utilities rose 0.3 per cent, industrials rose 0.2 per cent and financials rose 0.1 per cent. Among the laggards, telecom stocks fell 0.4 per cent, health-care stocks fell 0.2 per cent and consumer staples fell 0.1 per cent.

However, some consumer stocks showed strength: Walgreen rose 4.2 per cent, Best Buy rose 3.4 per cent and Abercrombie & Fitch rose 2.3 per cent.

Within Canada’s benchmark index, materials were the biggest drags on performance, falling 1.4 per cent. Telecom stocks fell 1.1 per cent, energy stocks fell 0.8 per cent and financials fell 0.6 per cent.

Among commodities, crude oil fell 15 cents (U.S.) to $92.69 a barrel. Gold fell $6, to $1,587 an ounce.

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