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FILE - In this July 2, 2014, file photo, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the International Monetary Fund in Washington. The Federal Reserve is widely expected to make sixth reduction in bond purchases Wednesday, July 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
FILE - In this July 2, 2014, file photo, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen speaks at the International Monetary Fund in Washington. The Federal Reserve is widely expected to make sixth reduction in bond purchases Wednesday, July 30, 2014. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

At the open: Markets fall ahead of Yellen speech Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was slightly lower Friday morning amid a deterioration in the Russian/Ukraine crisis while traders looked to a key speech from U.S. Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen later in the morning.

The S&P/TSX composite index dropped 23.47 points to 15,532.62 as the market found limited support from the financial sector after Royal Bank (TSX:RY) posted a $2.38-billion profit in its third quarter, up four per cent from a year earlier.

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Canada’s largest bank said third-quarter profit amounted to $1.59 (Canadian) per share and $1.64 per share on an adjusted basis. Analysts had generally estimated Royal would have $1.54 per share of net income and $1.56 per share on an adjusted basis. Royal Bank also increased its quarterly dividend by four cents to 75 cents a common share. Its shares rose 18 cents to $81.84 after earlier hitting an all-time high of $82.15.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.01 of a cent to 91.36 cents (U.S.) as the consumer price index declined 0.2 per cent month-month in July. And retail sales for June jumped 1.1 per cent over May, much higher than the consensus estimate that called for a 0.3 per cent advance.

New York’s Dow Jones industrials declined 16.89 points to 17,022.6, the Nasdaq declined 4.61 points to 4,527.49 while the S&P 500 index slipped 2.72 points to 1,989.65.

Yellen is expected to focus on the labour market in her speech at the central bank’s annual economic symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyo. The health of the job market is critical for when the Fed decides to hike interest rates, which have been held near zero since the financial crisis.

While U.S. job creation has steadily improved and averages about 200,000 jobs a month, there are worries about increased slack. The participation rate in the U.S. has fallen to a percentage in the low 60s. Also of concern is the number of workers employed part-time for economic reasons, and the high level of long-term unemployment.

The Fed has been generally expected to raise rates mid-2015 but there are concerns the Fed may move even earlier.

Rising rates are seen as a drag for the stock markets since some investors would choose to invest their money in securities with a guaranteed return, like bonds.

Meanwhile, Ukraine accused Russia of a “direct invasion” which “happened for the first time under the cover of the Red Cross” after Russia sent dozens of aid trucks into rebel-held eastern Ukraine on Friday without Kiev’s approval.

The aid is intended for civilians in the city of Luhansk, where pro-Russian separatists are besieged by government forces.

But in the past few days, Ukraine says its troops have recaptured significant parts of the city and suspicions are running high that Moscow’s humanitarian operation may instead be aimed at halting Kiev’s military momentum.

The TSX energy sector led decliners, down 0.7 per cent while October crude was down 72 cents to $93.24 (U.S.) a barrel.

The base metals component weakened 0.3 per cent as September copper rose three cents to $3.20 a pound.

The gold sector was off 0.15 per cent even as geopolitial concerns sent the December bullion contract in New York ahead $3.70 to $1,279.10 an ounce.

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