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At the open: Stocks hug starting positions Add to ...

North American stocks dipped slightly at the start of trading on Friday, ahead of key reports on consumer activity in the United States.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 27 points or 0.3 per cent, to 9372. The broader S&P 500 fell 3 points or 0.3 per cent, to 1010.

Despite the tame moves, there was a sharp distinction made between cyclical stocks - which tend to perform well with an improving economy - and more defensive names.

That is, defensives rose while cyclicals fell, suggesting that investors are nervous about upcoming data on U.S. consumer activity, including a report on sentiment. Among defensive names, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. rose 0.7 per cent, Procter & Gamble rose 0.6 per cent, Coca-Cola Co. rose 0.5 per cent and Kraft Foods Inc. rose 0.3 per cent.

Among cyclical stocks, Boeing Co. fell 2.4 per cent, Intel Corp. fell 1.1 per cent, Alcoa Inc. fell 1 per cent and Bank of America Corp. fell 0.7 per cent.

In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index fell 5 points, to 10,821.

There, commodity producers were relatively weak even though the price of crude oil and gold were stable. Among materials stocks, Teck Resources Ltd. fell 1.2 per cent, Goldcorp Inc. fell 0.2 per cent and Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. fell 0.9 per cent. Among energy producers, EnCana Corp. fell 0.3 per cent.

However, financials edged higher. Royal Bank of Canada rose 0.3 per cent and Bank of Montreal rose 0.2 per cent.

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