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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in this file photo. (© Brendan McDermid / Reuters/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in this file photo. (© Brendan McDermid / Reuters/REUTERS)

Inside the Market

At the open: Indexes slip as markets brace for slow earnings growth Add to ...

North American stock markets slid slightly into the red at the open, but there wasn't a lot of downward momentum as traders await the kick-off to the fourth-quarter earnings season later today.

In early trading, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 28 points, or 0.2 per cent, at 12,471; the S&P 500 was down 2 points or 0.1 per cent, at 1,459; and the Dow Jones industrial average was down 20 points, or 0.1 per cent, at 13,364.

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Oil in New York was up 27 cents at $93.46 (U.S.) a barrel and gold was up $7.20 at $1,653.50 an ounce.

Market players remain worried about the U.S. political brinkmanship that surely lies ahead in determining future budget spending levels and the debt ceiling - issues that need to be resolved in the next couple of months. With the U.S. and many other key global economies likely to continue to see slow growth in the year ahead, and corporate profits far from surging, investors aren't in any rush to increase equity exposure.

The cupboard is pretty bare for economic data today, so the main focus will be on Alcoa's earnings after market close, which will - as usual - unofficially begin the quarterly reporting season. The Street is looking for earnings of 6 cents a share for the aluminum producer and economic bellwether, setting the tone for a pretty flat earnings season overall in the U.S.

According to estimates compiled by Bloomberg, fourth-quarter profits at companies within the S&P 500 are expected to grow 2.9 per cent on average, but only 0.5 per cent if you exclude financial companies.

Markets haven't had too much reaction this morning to some grim economic reports out of Europe. German exports fell 3.4 per cent in November from October, the steepest decline in more than a year and far worse than the 0.5 per cent drop economists had expected. Meanwhile, euro zone unemployment rose to a record 11.8 per cent in December, with 113,000 more people out of work, another report found. On the bright side, morale among businesses in the euro zone rose by 1.3 points to 87 in December for the second straight month of gains.

Here's a look at some stocks moving on news this morning:

Barrick Gold Corp. is down 1.4 per cent on the TSX after the company ended talks to sell a stake in majority-owned African Barrick Gold to a Chinese buyer, dashing hopes of a potential $3-billion deal for the underperforming unit. Shares in African Barrick, of which Barrick Gold owns 74 per cent, fell 20 per cent in London.

Air Canada shares are up 2.1 per cent after National Bank upgraded the airline to "outperform" from "sector perform" in the wake of recent strong load factors.

Monsanto shares are up 3 per cent after the company reported fiscal first-quarter adjusted earnings per share of 62 cents, well past analysts' forecasts.

Yum Brands Inc. shares are down 4 per cent after the fast food operator warned late Monday that fourth-quarter same-store sales in China will fall more than previously expected. The critical division for the company is now expected to post a drop in same-store sales of 6 per cent, versus its previous estimate of a 4 per cent decline.

Sears Holdings Corp. shares are down 3 per cent after the retailer announced late Monday that CEO Louis J. D’Ambrosio is stepping down next month due to health issues involving his family. He will be replaced by company chairman and its largest shareholder, Edward Lampert.

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