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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 25, 2013. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 25, 2013. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

At the open: Stocks hold their ground, Fed in focus Add to ...

The Toronto stock market was slightly lower Friday morning at the end of a losing week where buying sentiment was blunted by growing concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve is set to start reducing its monetary stimulus.

The S&P/TSX composite index was 9.17 points lower at 13,105.22.

The Canadian dollar was off 0.02 of a cent to 93.96 cents US as U.S. bond yields continued to creep higher on Fed speculation. The benchmark 10-year Treasury hit 2.9 per cent earlier in the morning before backing off to 2.87 per cent.

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U.S. indexes registered slight gains after three days of losses as the Dow Jones industrials edged up 15.19 points to 15,754.62, the Nasdaq climbed 10.01 points to 4,008.41 and the S&P 500 index added 1.07 points to 1,776.57.

Expectations about the Fed tapering its US$85 billion of bond purchases have changed over the last month, with markets largely expecting that the central bank would hold off until March when incoming chair Janet Yellen was settled in the new job.

But a string of strong data last week, capped by a solid employment report for November, have raised concerns that the Fed could act as soon as next week, when the Federal Open Market Committee meets on Dec. 17-18.

A better than expected retail sales report for November and the passage of a budget agreement in the U.S. Congress further served to raise expectations.

The U.S. stimulus has lifted stocks over the past few years, and its potential reduction has jolted markets since May, when outgoing Fed chair Ben Bernanke first mentioned the possibility of tapering. However, any cutback in asset purchases would be gradual and is expected to be accompanied by a renewed commitment by the Fed to keep interest rates low.

The focus will likely remain on the Fed until its decision next Wednesday.

The much battered TSX gold sector, down 50 per cent for the year, moved up 1.35 per cent while February bullion gained $6.50 to US$1,231.14 an ounce. Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX) rose 40 cents to $17.88.

The base metals sector climbed 0.3 per cent and March copper was up a penny at US$3.31 a pound.

Telecoms were weak after the CRTC announced it will look at wholesale rates charged to small wireless firms by the big players including Rogers (TSX:RCI.B), Bell (TSX:BCE) and Telus (TSX:T). The federal telecom regulator wants to know if big players are putting these small players at an unfair disadvantage with the wholesale roaming rates they charge. Telus shed 47 cents to $35.94.

The energy sector was slightly lower as January crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange declined 83 cents to US$96.67 a barrel.

European bourses were positive with London’s FTSE 100 index up 0.2 per cent and Frankfurt’s DAX and the Paris CAC 40 rose 0.1 per cent.

Traders also digested comments by Chinese leaders that the world’s second-largest economy faces “downward pressure” and have called for boldness in carrying out promised reforms aimed at reviving slowing growth.

In a report following an annual planning meeting, Communist Party leaders said Friday that the country faces problems including excess production capacity in some industries and environmental degradation.

Earlier in Asia, Singapore gained but markets fell in Thailand, Malaysia and Jakarta, which might be more exposed if a reduction in the Fed’s stimulus hurts U.S. demand for imports or sparks short-term capital flight from Asian economies.

Hong Kong’s Hang Seng rose 0.1 per cent, Taiwan’s Taiex added 0.2 per cent, Sydney’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.7 per cent and China’s benchmark Shanghai Composite Index shed 0.3 per cent.

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