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North American stocks were broadly weaker in midday trading, pulled lower by tech stocks and financials after disappointing quarterly earnings from companies such as Goldman Sachs and Well Fargo & Co.

A gain in telecommunications and health-care stocks helped the Dow Jones industrial average cling to neutral ground. The index was up 4.05 points, or 0.03 percent, at 11,841.98. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 7.78 points, or 0.60 percent, at 1,287.24. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 24.07 points, or 0.87 percent, at 2,741.78, after sliding to an intraday low at 2,737.91. The S&P/TSX composite index declined 77.98 points to 13,481.21.

The base metals sector led decliners in Toronto, down 1.4 per cent as the March copper contract in New York was 5 cents lower at $4.38 (U.S.) a pound.

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Spot gold was up 0.4 percent at $1,373.00. Spot platinum rose to $1,845.50 an ounce, its highest since July 2008, before easing to show a 0.8 percent gain on the day at $1,837.24.

The energy sector was down 0.82 per cent as the February crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange backed off 39 cents to $90.99 a barrel.

European shares ended lower after hitting 28-month highs, as disappointing figures from Goldman Sachs and a fall in U.S. housing starts hurt sentiment and prompted some investors to take profits. The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares provisionally finished 1.3 percent lower at 1,152.71 points after touching 1,170.00, the highest since September 2008.

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