The Toronto stock market was little changed Friday while oil and gold prices fell back amid uncertainty over a Syrian military intervention.
The S&P/TSX composite index was up 2.12 points to 12,706.85 as traders also took in data that showed the Canadian economy contracted in June.
The Canadian dollar was up 0.03 of a cent to 94.99 cents US as Statistics Canada reported that gross domestic product in June shrank by 0.5 per cent, which was in line with economists’ expectations. At the same time, GDP grew at an annualized rate of 1.7 per cent, higher than the 1.6 per cent pace that was forecast.
Economists had expected the economy would hit a rough patch in June, largely because of severe flooding in Alberta and a construction sector strike in Quebec.
The TSX found early support from convenience store chain Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. (TSX:ATD.B). Shares ran up $4.01 or 6.99 per cent to $61.37 as it increased its quarterly dividend by 1.25 cents to 8.75 cents per share as it reported a first-quarter profit of $255-million or $1.35 per share. That was up from a profit of $102.9-million or 57 cents per share a year ago.
U.S. indexes racked up minor losses with traders reluctant to take on big positions ahead of a long weekend in the U.S. and Canada for the Labour Day holiday.
The Dow Jones industrials were down 12.97 points to 14,827.98, the Nasdaq lost 6.83 points to 3,613.48 and the S&P 500 index was 0.11 of a point lower to 1,638.06.
Markets have been rattled this week by the prospect of a U.S.-led punitive strike against Syria after an alleged chemical weapons attack. The international aid group Doctors Without Borders says at least 355 people were killed in the Aug. 21 attack in a suburb of the Syrian capital of Damascus.
UN investigators are currently in Syria gathering evidence about the attack.
In a surprise move, the British parliament voted late Thursday against military action in Syria, whittling down the core of the planned coalition to the United States and France. Italy and Germany have said they won’t take part in any military action.
The British vote ratcheted up pressure on U.S. President Barack Obama, who is also facing domestic skepticism about military intervention in Syria.
Obama appeared undeterred by the difficulties forming an international coalition, and advisers said he would be willing to retaliate against Syria on his own.
On the TSX, support also came from financials at the end of a generally positive week for bank earnings. All the major Canadian banks reported this past week and combined profits slipped to $7.63-billion in the third quarter, even though most of them reported stronger results for the period. TD Bank (TSX:TD) gained 84 cents to $90.77.
Elsewhere in the sector, Laurentian Bank (TSX:LB) reported third-quarter net income fell six per cent to $28.3-million, or 91 cents per share. Revenue grew 14 per cent to $221-million from $193.8-million and its shares slipped 27 cents to $44.68.
The telecom sector also provided lift for a second day on speculation that U.S. telco Verizon won’t be entering the Canadian wireless market. Rogers Communications (TSX:RCI.B) edged up 15 cents to $42.16.
Easing concerns about international intervention in Syria pushed oil prices lower for a second day.
The October crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange lost 98 cents to $107.82 (U.S.) a barrel.
Syria is not a major oil producer but a widening conflict there could affect major producers in the region or disrupt supply routes.
The energy sector was off 0.2 per cent and Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) shed 18 cents to $35.92.
Gold prices also moved lower after spiking earlier in the week and the December bullion contract on the Nymex fell $17.70 to $1,395.20 (U.S.) an ounce. The gold sector fell 1.2 per cent and Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) fell 50 cents to $31.02.
The base metals sector was slightly higher while December copper stepped back two cents to $3.24 (U.S.) a pound. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM) climbed 27 cents to $17.17 (Canadian).
European bourses were lower amid data that showed the unemployment rate across the 17 nations using the euro stuck at its record high of 12.1 per cent in July. The European Union rate of 11 per cent also held steady.
London’s FTSE 100 index fell 0.54 per cent, Frankfurt’s DAX declined 0.64 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 was down 0.58 per cent.
Earlier in Asia, Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 index closed down 0.5 per cent but gains were posted elsewhere in Asia. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.2 per cent, South Korea’s Kospi gained one per cent while Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 added 0.8 per cent.