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Recruits take an oath before Sergei Aksyonov, standing in suit, the self-declared Prime Minister of Crimea, to serve in self-defense units in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 10, 2014. Russian military units have reportedly taking control of more Ukrainian bases on the Crimean peninsula even as the government in Kiev and western diplomats maintain that an impending March 16 referendum on secession will be illegal. (SERGEY PONOMAREV/NYT)
Recruits take an oath before Sergei Aksyonov, standing in suit, the self-declared Prime Minister of Crimea, to serve in self-defense units in Simferopol, Ukraine, March 10, 2014. Russian military units have reportedly taking control of more Ukrainian bases on the Crimean peninsula even as the government in Kiev and western diplomats maintain that an impending March 16 referendum on secession will be illegal. (SERGEY PONOMAREV/NYT)

At midday: TSX flat amid Chinese growth, Crimea referendum Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was little changed Friday with traders going into the weekend cautious about China’s economic performance and the Ukraine crisis.

The S&P/TSX composite index slipped 2.4 points to 14,242.74, with most strength coming from the gold sector.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.26 of a cent to 90.21 cents (U.S.).

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New York indexes lost early momentum as the latest reading on consumer sentiment weighed on sentiment. The University of Michigan’s widely-watched index declined to 79.9 from 81.6 in February and was lower than the 82.5 reading that had been forecast.

The Dow Jones industrials gave back 34.55 points to 16,074.34, the Nasdaq lost 15.31 points to 4,245.11 and the S&P 500 index was down 3.79 points to 1,842.55.

Investors looked ahead to a referendum being held in the Crimea region of Ukraine on Sunday where residents will vote on whether they want to join Russia. The vote is being held two weeks after Russian troops initially moved into Crimea, where the country has a key naval base and many of the people are Russian speaking.

The West has called the vote illegitimate, urging Moscow to pull back its troops while preparing to impose harsh sanctions on Russia if that country does move to annex the territory.

“It’s not the results of the referendum that are the issue here. It’s the reaction from both Russia and the G7 nations afterwards,” said Jean-Francois Dion, a portfolio adviser at RBC Wealth Management.

“What really matters is whether or not we do get sanctions and the secondary issue would be the smaller risk of some kind of debt restructuring for Ukraine or the urgent need of capital in the banking system if these tensions last too long.”

Adding to nervousness was a warning from Russia that it reserves the right to intervene in defence of ethnic Russians it says are under threat in eastern Ukraine.

Meanwhile, China’s growth prospects have also depressed markets this week in the wake of soft export, retail and industrial production numbers.

The TSX base metals segment has plunged about 11 per cent this week while copper, viewed as an economic proxy, dropped almost 10 per cent over the last five sessions. Copper is also used for financing in China and last week’s first-ever corporate default raised worries that other failed companies could dump large quantities of the metal on markets, further depressing prices.

The base metals component gained 0.25 per cent as May copper rose two cents to $2.95 (U.S.) an ounce.

Nervous traders sent gold higher for a fifth session with the April contract up $12.70 to $1,385.10 an ounce after closing Thursday at its highest close since September. The gold sector was the best performing group, up 1.5 per cent.

The energy sector was also ahead 0.25 per cent with April crude in New York up 67 cents to $98.87 a barrel.

The financials component was the biggest drag, down 0.6 per cent.

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