North American stocks struggled in midday trading on Friday, following disappointing economic reports from China and Europe, declining commodity prices and the start of federal spending cuts in the United States.
The S&P 500 was down 3 points or 0.2 per cent, to 1512. The Dow Jones industrial average was up 22 points or 0.2 per cent, to 14,077. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 68 points or 0.5 per cent, to 12,754.
Stocks had been down considerably more at the start of trading, but recovered after the U.S. ISM factory index rose to 54.2 in February, up from 53.1 in January and ahead of expectations. As well, the final reading for the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan consumer sentiment index rose to 77.6 in February, up from an earlier reading of 76.3.
However, manufacturing activity in China slowed and factory output in the euro zone contracted for the nineteenth straight month. And in the United States, disagreement in Washington over spending cuts means that $85-billion (U.S.) of automatic cuts are set to begin, raising concerns about the impact on the economy.
Within the S&P 500, energy stocks fell 0.5 per cent, utilities fell 0.2 per cent and industrials fell 0.1 per cent. Health-care stocks and consumer discretionary stocks rose 0.4 per cent each.
Canada’s benchmark index was weighed down by commodity producers: Energy stocks fell 0.9 per cent and materials fell 1.2 per cent.
Among commodities, gold fell to $1,575 an ounce, down $5 and marking its third straight decline. Crude oil fell to $90.62, down $1.41 for its lowest level of 2013.
In Europe, the U.K.’s FTSE 100 rose 0.3 per cent and Germany’s DAX index fel 0.4 per cent.