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SNC-Lavalin headquarters in Montreal. The company said it had prepared a bid for the Bangladeshi government earlier this year.

Christinne Muschi/Reuters

North American stocks were flat at the start of trading on Tuesday, following a disappointing reading on U.S. durable goods orders in January.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 5 points, to 12,976. The broader S&P 500 rose 1 point or less than 0.1 per cent, to 1,369. In Canada, the S&P/TSX composite index fell 10 points or 0.1 per cent, to 12,690.

The Commerce Department reported that durable goods orders slumped 4 per cent last month, a far bigger decrease than economists had been expecting.

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Canada's SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. plunged 20.8 per cent after it said its 2011 net income was now expected to be 18 per cent below its previously announced outlook. The engineering company's financial exposure to Libya was partly to blame, but investors might be more nervous about an investigation into $35-million in payments made in the fourth quarter.

Bank of Montreal rose 1 per cent after it kicked off the first quarter reporting season for Canadian banks. Earnings rose to $1.1-billion (Canadian) or $1.63 a share, up from $1.34 last year. Operating earnings, which take one-time items into account, topped analysts' estimates.

In other moves, Intel Corp. rose 0.8 per cent and Microsoft Corp. rose 0.6 per cent. Priceline.com Inc. rose 6.7 per cent after its fourth quarter earnings, released on Monday after markets closed, beat estimates.

Crude oil held relatively steady, at $108.40 (U.S.) a barrel, down 16 cents. Suncor Energy Inc. was unchanged but Canadian Oil Sands Ltd. rose 1 per cent.

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