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Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange January 22, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)
Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange January 22, 2014. (BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS)

At the open: Wall Street sharply lower Add to ...

Gold prices helped lift the Toronto stock market into positive territory on Thursday, as Wall Street weakened on disappointing earnings and a weak outlook for the Chinese economy.

The S&P/TSX composite index initially opened down but was soon up 11.10 points to 13,999.30, propped up mainly by the gold sector.

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And the Canadian dollar is trading below 90 cents US for the first time since mid-2009. The loonie dropped to 89.91 cents U.S in early trading, down 0.28 of a cent from the previous close. The dollar fell nearly a cent on Wednesday following the Bank of Canada’s latest interest rate announcement.

In commodities, the February gold bullion contract rose $18.40 to US$1,257 an ounce. The TSX gold sector rose 3.4 per cent.

The energy sector was flat as the March crude oil contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained 43 cents to US$97.16 a barrel.

On Wall Street, stocks moved sharply lower after several companies reported disappointing results and as signs emerged that manufacturing in China was set to contract.

The Dow Jones industrials dropped 158.68 points to 16,214.66, the Nasdaq was 34.94 points lower at 4,208.06 and the S&P 500 index was off 15.63 points to 1,829.50.

A preliminary reading of HSBC’s purchasing managers’ index for China dipped this month to the lowest level since July.

Several U.S. companies were lower after reporting quarterly results, including KeyCorp, Johnson Controls and Jacobs Engineering.

In economic data, Statistics Canada says retail sales rose 0.6 per cent in November to $41 billion, the fourth increase in five months.

Separately, it reported that 512,300 people were getting regular employment insurance benefits in November, a number virtually unchanged from October.

Dorel Industries Inc. (TSX:DII.B) is closing an assembly and testing facility in Pennsylvania and moving a research and development unit in Connecticut in a cost-reduction effort at its Recreational and Leisure segment, which makes bicycles. Dorel says about 100 employees will be affected globally. Dorel shares were down 30 cents to $40.91.

Canadian cheesemaker Saputo Inc. (TSX:SAP) has emerged victorious in a bidding war for Warrnambool Cheese and Butter after Australia’s largest dairy producer called off the battle. The Murray Goulburn Co-Operative will sell its shares to Saputo, and expects to receive at least AU$92.8 million cash in return. Saputo shares rose 24 cents to $52.93.

McDonald’s Corp. earned $1.4 billion, or $1.40 per share, in the fourth quarter, which is a penny more than Wall Street expected. The world’s biggest hamburger chain also reported that global sales slipped 0.1 per cent at established locations. In the U.S., where it recently revamped its Dollar Menu, the figure fell 1.4 per cent.

McDonald’s shares rained 23 cents to US$95.11.

Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT) says it’s laying off 475 employees worldwide, adding to the 700 positions it has eliminated over the past six months. The decision comes nearly two weeks after the retailer lowered its fourth-quarter profit outlook as it grapples with the fallout of a massive security breach. Shares of the retailer fell 37 cents to $58.61.

In Europe, Germany’s DAX slipped 0.6 per cent to 9,662 and the FTSE 100 index of leading British companies lost 0.3 per cent to 6,804. But France’s CAC 40 was up 0.3 per cent to 4,312.

Japan’s Nikkei 225 dropped 0.8 per cent to close at 15,695.89 and Hong Kong’s Hang Seng sank 1.5 per cent to 22,733.90. South Korea’s Kospi lost 1.2 per cent to 1,947.59.

The Shanghai Composite Index in mainland China retreated 0.5 per cent to 2,042.18. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 fell 1.1 per cent to 5,263.00.

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