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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 14, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 14, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

At midday: TSX flat, U.S. markets give back earlier gains Add to ...

The Toronto stock market chalked up a minor gain Monday as traders looked beyond the weekend vote that saw an overwhelming number of Crimeans opt to break from Ukraine and join Russia.

Traders are now looking to see what level of sanctions will be imposed against Russia for its part in backing the referendum.

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The S&P/TSX composite index was up 8.98 points to 14,227.21 as traders had widely anticipated the results of the vote. The Canadian dollar was up 0.23 of a cent to 90.36 cents (U.S.).

U.S. indexes surged amid data showing that U.S. factory production surged 0.8 per cent in February, nearly reversing a 0.9 per cent plunge in January that was due mainly to weather.

After soaring almost 200 points Monday morning, the Dow Jones industrials gave back 45 points to 16,219.61, the Nasdaq advanced 39.77 points to 4,285.17 and the S&P 500 index gained 15.31 points to 1,856.44.

European Union foreign ministers agreed to slap travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people from Russia and Crimea they have linked to the push for the secession.

Also, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order that names seven Russian government officials. The U.S. Treasury Department also is imposing sanctions on four Ukrainians, including former President Viktor Yanukovych.

“The response has been very targeted at individuals as opposed to general trade and against the country,” said Gareth Watson, vice-president investment management and research at Richardson GMP Ltd.

“So that just tells you right there that they don’t want to escalate this.”

Meanwhile, Imperial Oil is selling its interest in assets located in Boundary Lake, Cynthia/West Pembina, and Rocky Mountain House in Western Canada to Whitecap Resources Inc. for approximately $855-million. Imperial shares added eight cents to $51.15.

Whitecap shares were up 36 cents to $11.89 on the TSX after the company also issued improved production figures and hiked its annual dividend payout to 75 cents a year from 68 cents.

And the Wall Street Journal reported that gas giant Encana is in advanced talks to sell its Wyoming natural-gas fields to private-equity firm Carlyle Group for about $2-billion. Its shares ran up 18 cents to $22.64.

Watson observed that there are sound reasons for this latest bit oilpatch purchases.

“Interest rates are still extremely low, borrowing is cheap, it creates a very solid environment for merger and acquisition activity,” he said, adding “you can definitely see more of this activity going forward.”

The TSX base metals sector was the leading advancer, up 1.7 per cent with copper unchanged at $2.95 (U.S.) a pound after a string of negative data from China sent prices dropping by eight per cent last week.

The energy sector gained 0.15 per cent while April crude dipped 66 cents to $98.23 a barrel.

The financial and industrial sectors also lifted the Toronto market.

Bombardier Inc. is one of four companies picked to supply a total of 1,064 locomotives to South Africa’s state-owned freight rail system. The total contract is worth about $5.16-billion (Canadian) but Bombardier’s announcement didn’t disclose how much its share is worth. Its shares gained 19 cents to $4.11.

The gold sector gave back 1.15 per cent as gold prices rose 60 cents to $1,379.60 (U.S.) an ounce after nervous investors pushed prices ahead last week.

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