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North American stocks were largely divided along sector lines at midday on Monday: Anything related to energy and gold was up, but the gains were cancelled out by wilting financials, a trend that is increasingly defining the difference between winning and losing portfolios this year.

The S&P/TSX composite index slipped 5 points, to 13,578. The biggest winners included Suncor Energy Inc., Barrick Gold Corp., Kinross Gold Corp. and Canadian Oil Sands Trust, which continue to benefit from surprising strength in commodity prices. On the downside, there were few surprises: Financials stretched their losing streak to four days, with Bank of Nova Scotia leading the way down. The bank, which reports its first quarter results on Tuesday, fell 2.7 per cent.

In the United States, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 18 points, to 12,248. The broader S&P 500 fell less than one point, weighed down by Apple Inc., Citigroup Inc., Google Inc. and Boeing Co.

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Earlier in the day, investors learned that the U.S. manufacturing sector contracted in February, bad news but by no means an alarming reading on what just about everyone suspects: the U.S. is headed for recession. The Institute for Supply Management's factory index fell to 48.3, down from 50.7 in January - its lowest level since 2003 and an indication that rising U.S. exports are not enough to offset weaker consumer and business spending.

"On balance, this report is not nearly as bad as feared, though it indicates that the manufacturing sector is contracting," said Charmain Buskas, senior economics strategist at TD Securities. "This adds to the list of sectors in the U.S. economy that are currently losing traction and provides yet another reason why the Fed shall remain on an easing path to shore up the considerable downside risks that prevail."

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