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Canadian factory sales unexpectedly fell in April, driven largely by refinery shutdowns, in what was a disappointing kickoff for manufacturing data in the second quarter.

The value of factory shipments dropped 1.3 per cent, driven by a 10.9 per cent decline in the petroleum and coal products industry, Statistics Canada said in a report Friday. The agency cited “partial shutdowns” at a number of refineries for the decline. In volume terms, total sales were down 1.9 per cent.

The pull-back puts an abrupt stop to two strong months of gains in a sector expected to benefit the most from a robust U.S. economic expansion, which would help the Canadian economy emerge from a recent soft patch.

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At the same time, the temporary nature of the refinery shutdowns will probably dampen any worries of prolonged weakness. Sales were still up in 11 of the 21 industries tracked by Statistics Canada, representing about 50 per cent of total sales.

Economists were anticipating a 0.6-per-cent gain in April, with expectations elevated by strong export numbers reported earlier this month by Statistics Canada.

Other pockets of weakness were a 6.4 per cent decline in sales reported by the aerospace industry and a 4 per cent drop for machinery producers. Car makers and primary metal producers recorded gains in April.

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