The Toronto stock market started the 2014 trading year in the red as resource stocks pulled back in the wake of manufacturing data that indicated the sector is still growing but at a slower pace.
The S&P/TSX composite index was off the lows of the morning, down 36.8 points to 13,584.75 with further losses held in check by a sharp uptick in the gold sector.
The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.15 of a cent to US 94.17 cents (U.S.).
U.S. indexes were also in the red despite further evidence that U.S. layoffs are low and hiring will likely remain steady. The Labor Department said that the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits dipped 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000.
Applications are a proxy for layoffs and appear to have stabilized near pre-recession levels at a level consistent with solid hiring.
The Dow Jones industrials dropped 84.74 points to 16,491.92, the Nasdaq declined 26.84 points to 4,149.75 and the S&P 500 index was down 10.61 points to 1,837.75.
In the U.S., the Institute for Supply Management’s latest reading on the American manufacturing sector showed slowing expansion, with its index coming in at 57, down slightly from 57.3 in November. That reading met expectations.
Royal Bank’s Canadian Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index also showed the manufacturing sector growing but at a slower pace. It came in at 53.5 for December, down from 55.3 in November.
Two manufacturing surveys released Thursday showed Chinese activity slowed in December. The China Federation of Logistics & Purchasing said its purchasing managers index declined to 51 from November’s 51.4 on a 100-point scale. Numbers above 50 show an expansion. A separate survey by HSBC Corp. declined slightly to 50.5 from 50.8 in November.
Meanwhile, the euro zone manufacturing purchasing managers index in December was confirmed at 52.7 as expected.
“It’s good news and bad news, I guess – good news in the sense that the Federal Reserve is unlikely to be aggressive in tapering,” said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at 3MACS.
“Bad news in that maybe investors have been bidding up the market because they thought economic data would be stronger than expected. The past few months have been pretty good numbers.”
The Fed announced last month it would start trimming its $85-billion (U.S.) of monthly bond purchases by $10-billion a month starting in January with further tapering dependent on economic data.
Commodity prices were mixed in the wake of the manufacturing data with the February crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange down $2.02 to $96.40 (U.S.) a barrel. The TSX energy sector declined 0.7 per cent as Canadian Natural Resources lost 77 cents to C$35.16.
The financial sector, one of the strongest 2013 performers with a 22 per cent gain, also moved lower with a one per cent decline as Manulife Financial gave back 28 cents to $20.68.
Telecoms also weighed with Telus down 26 cents to $36.30.
The base metals sector was down 0.3 per cent while March copper edged a cent lower to $3.38 (U.S.) a pound. Teck Resources shed 39 cents to C$27.26.
The battered gold sector provided support, up 3.4 per cent as February bullion climbed $20.40 to $1,223.20 (U.S.) an ounce after the previous metal tumbled 28 per cent last year. Goldcorp gained 96 cents to C$24.
North American markets started a fresh trading year on the back of a solid lift for 2013 with the TSX ahead 9.55 per cent. Gains would have been stronger had it not been for a slide of almost 50 per cent in the gold sector and a 21-per-cent tumble in base metals.
U.S. markets racked up stronger advances, benefiting from another year of stimulus measures from the Federal Reserve with the Dow jumping 26.5 per cent.
On the corporate front, the price of Fiat shares on the Milan exchange soared 12 per cent after the Italian automaker announced it had clinched a deal to acquire the rest of Chrysler.
Fiat SpA said Wednesday night that it had reached an agreement with the United Auto Workers union-controlled trust fund holding 41.5 per cent of Chrysler’s shares. Fiat already possesses the remaining shares. Fiat says it will pay $1.75-billion in cash. Another $1.9-billion will be paid as extraordinary dividends.
European bourses were in the red as London’s FTSE 100 index lost 0.4 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX was down 1.55 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 fell 1.43 per cent.