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At the open: TSX heads lower, commodities decline Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was lower Wednesday ahead of the release of documents that could give investors a better idea of what the U.S. Federal Reserve plans to do about a key economic stimulus program.

The S&P/TSX composite index lost 23.43 points to 12,646.68.

The Canadian dollar also headed lower, down 0.45 of a cent to 95.81 cents US as the greenback strengthened and traders looked to the release of the minutes of the latest Federal Reserve meeting late last month.

Many analysts think the Fed judges the economy is strong enough to start to let up on its monthly purchase of $85-billion in bonds, a program which has kept rates low and helped stimulate investment.

But there is nervousness surrounding the tapering of these purchases since the latest bond-buying program, known as quantitative easing, has also fuelled a strong rally on the U.S. equity markets this year.

“It is tempting to attribute much of the credit for the rally to the (Fed),” said a commentary from Barclays Research.

“This line of reasoning implies significant risk to ending asset purchases, and while we remain tactically bearish, we do not believe the current policy normalization-related equity market correction will prove extraordinary in magnitude.”

Analysts believe the Fed could start tapering its asset purchases as early as September.

U.S. indexes were mainly weak ahead of the release of the Fed minutes at 2 p.m. (ET).

The Dow Jones industrials dipped 20.12 points to 14,982.87, the Nasdaq was 0.3 of a point lower to 3,613.89 and the S&P 500 index was down 2.93 points to 1,649.42.

Aside from the Fed minutes, investors will have the monthly existing home sales figures from the National Association of Realtors to digest. One reason why the Fed tapering expectations have ratcheted up in recent months has been the improvement in the U.S. housing market.

The gold sector led declines, down 1.35 per cent while December bullion lost $9.90 to $1,362.70 an ounce. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) faded 24 cents to $20.36.

The base metals sector fell one per cent and September copper slipped two cents to $3.32 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) lost 30 cents to $27.28.

Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. is reported to be conditionally in favour of accepting a Chinese coal company’s offer for its majority stake in Inova Resources Ltd. (TSX:IVA), an Australian mining company listed in Toronto and Sydney. Inova says Shanxi Donghui Coal Coking & Chemicals Group Co., Ltd. is offering 22 cents Aus per Inova share and Vancouver-based Turquoise Hill (TSX:TRQ) has agreed to tender it shares, unless a better offer comes forward. Turquoise Hill slipped four cents to $5.26. Inova hasn’t traded since Aug. 2, when it closed at 16 cents.

Commodity prices were lower with the October crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange down 17 cents to $104.94 a barrel. The energy sector shed 0.3 per cent Investors also considered earnings reports from the Canadian and U.S. retail sectors.

Sears Canada (TSX:SCC) posted net income of $152.8-million or $1.50 per share, including an after-tax gain of $164.0-million. Ex-items, Sears lost 11 cents per share. Second-quarter revenue was down 9.6 per cent from the same time last year. Its shares added one cent to $12.28.

Home improvement retailer Lowe’s said second-quarter net income rose 26 per cent to $941-million, or 88 cents per share. That’s up from $747-million, or 64 cents per share, a year ago. Revenue increased 10 per cent to $15.71-billion from $14.25-billion. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expected earnings of 79 cents per share on revenue of $15.07-billion and its shares ran up $2.04 to $46.12.

Target Corp. is reporting a 13 per cent drop in second-quarter earnings as the discounter spent money on opening stores in Canada and dealt with cautious shoppers in the U.S. Target earned $611-million, or 95 cents per share. Ex-items, the retailer earned $1.19 per share. Revenue reached $17.12-billion, up two per cent. Analysts were expecting earnings of 96 cents per share on revenue of $17.28-billion, according to FactSet and its shares fell $1.34 to $66.61.

European bourses were mainly lower as London’s FTSE 100 index lost 0.52 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX dipped 0.1 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 slipped 0.03 per cent flat.

Earlier, Asian stock markets traded unevenly. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index ended 0.2 per cent higher, South Korea’s Kospi fell 1.1 per cent while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng lost 0.7 per cent. Indonesia’s benchmark index rose 1.1 per cent after dropping over eight per cent over the first two days of the week on concerns over the Fed policy.

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