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The Toronto Stock Exchange was steeped in red at midday Wednesday as commodity prices lost ground amid investor jitters as protests in debt-ravaged Greece and Spain turned ugly.

The S&P/TSX composite index fell 70.47 points to 12,186.71, while the TSX Venture Exchange shed 16.65 points to 1,296.56.

The Canadian dollar fell 0.44 of a cent to 101.54 cents U.S. as commodity prices failed to get a lasting boost from an improvement Tuesday in U.S. consumer confidence to its highest level since February.

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Wall Street markets were also lower, with the Dow industrials average down 37.13 points to 13,420.42, the Nasdaq off 31.92 points at 3,085.8. The broader S&P 500 index was down 8.27 points to 1,433.32.

A day after U.S. stocks suffered their biggest retreat in three months on comments from a leading official at the U.S. Federal Reserve, investors were spooked Wednesday by scenes of violent protests in Athens and Madrid that reignited concerns over Europe's ability to implement the measures needed to deal with its debts.

The developments in Europe overshadowed moderately positive data on the state of the U.S. housing market.

The U.S. Commerce Department said sales of new homes in the United States dipped slightly in August from July, but the median price of homes sold during the month rose by a record amount.

New-home sales edged down to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 373,000 in August, a dip of 0.3 per cent from July's revised rate of 374,000. That had been the fastest pace since April 2010 when government tax credits were boosting sales.

But investors were more focused on Europe than on the moderately encouraging news on the U.S. housing market, said Gavin Graham, president of Graham Investment Strategy Ltd.

"We may finally be starting to see the turn in what's been a major drag on growth," he said.

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"Maybe now we're starting to see a little bit of positive news but that's obviously more of a long-time story in the meantime when you have rioting crowds in the streets that tends to rather focus people's attention."

If there are continued worries about Europe being able to achieve a successful resolution that could worsen the recession across the Atlantic, lowering demand for commodities, which make up a big portion of the companies on the TSX, he explained.

The benchmark New York oil contract was $2.12 lower at $89.25 a barrel, the December gold contract slipped $21.50 to $1,744.90 and the December copper contract fell seven cents to $3.69.

In Canadian economic news, the Conference Board said consumer confidence improved this month, following a weak showing in August. The Ottawa-based economic forecaster said its consumer confidence index increased 6.7 points to 82.2.

And in Canadian deals, Onex Corp. (TSX:OCX) is leading a $718-million deal to acquire a German manufacturing company, the first European investment for the Toronto-based company's flagship private equity fund. Onex shares added 11 cents to $38.18.

CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) has received a five-year contract worth up to US$871 million from the Defense Information Systems Agency. Shares in the company dropped 45 cents to $26.38.

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Investment manager AGF Management Ltd. (TSX:AGF.B) reported a loss of $13.3 million or 14 cents per share in the quarter ended Aug. 31 compared with a profit of $15.4 million or 16 cents per share a year ago. Shares fell seven per cent or 88 cents to $11.55.

And shares of Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) gained two per cent or 13 cents to $6.63 on positive momentum from Tuesday when the company gave an update on the new BlackBerry 10 prototype and ahead of its quarterly earnings to be released Thursday.

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