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A trader looks at a TV screen showing news on Italy's 5-Star Movement leader and comedian Beppe Grillo, in front of the German share price index DAX board at the German stock exchange in Frankfurt February 26, 2013.

Lisi Niesner/Reuters

North American stocks were down in midday trading on Thursday, following a global selloff inspired by weak German economic data and ongoing uncertainty in Cyprus.

The S&P 500 was down 5 points or 0.3 per cent, to 1554. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 35 points or 0.2 per cent, to 14,477. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 28 points or 0.2 per cent, to 12,799.

European stocks were also weak, with the U.K.'s FTSE 100 down 0.6 per cent and Germany's DAX index down 0.8 per cent in afternoon trading.

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An index of Germany manufacturing activity for March slipped to 48.9, putting it in contraction territory and stirring concerns that the euro zone's largest economy is struggling. Germany's services sector also fell, with an index reading of just 51.6.

In Cyprus, lawmakers continued to struggle over arranging a bailout, after rejecting a proposal earlier this week from the euro zone and then being rejected by Russia. The European Central Bank has said that it may cut off Cypriot banks from emergency funding after Monday, if a bailout plan didn't emerge by then.

U.S. news was far more upbeat. Existing home sales in February rose 0.8 per cent, to an annualized pace of nearly 5 million. Initial jobless claims for the period ended last week rose by 2,000, to 336,000 – but the results were better than expected.

Within the S&P 500, consumer staples and telecom stocks showed slight gains. But technology stocks fell 1.1 per cent, consumer discretionary stocks fell 0.4 per cent and industrials and financials fell 0.3 per cent each.

Oracle Corp. plunged 8.2 per cent after reported disappointing quarterly results. Some analysts cut their target prices on the stock.

In Canada, materials rose 0.7 per cent and consumer staples rose 0.3 per cent. Industrials fell 0.8 per cent, financials fell 0.5 per cent and energy stocks fell 0.3 per cent.

Among key commodities, gold rose to $1,614 (U.S.) an ounce, up nearly $7. Crude oil fell to $93.30 a barrel, down 20 cents.

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