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A trader watches screens in a trading room in Lisbon October 3, 2012. (JOSE MANUEL RIBEIRO/REUTERS)
A trader watches screens in a trading room in Lisbon October 3, 2012. (JOSE MANUEL RIBEIRO/REUTERS)

Inside the Market

At the open: Slight losses, but Apple gains on iPad sales Add to ...

North American stock markets opened very modestly in negative territory, as traders are shying away from taking on new positions this close to the U.S. elections.

At 940 a.m. (ET), the S&P/TSX index was down 9 points, or 0.05 per cent, at 12,371; the S&P 500 was down just 2 points at 1,411; and the Dow Jones industrial average was down 23 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 13,069.

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are virtually neck-and-neck in polls, which is keeping investors on edge as voting booths prepare to open on Tuesday.

Most market observers think equities would rally -- at least initially -- if Mr. Romney wins the top office, given perceptions of a more pro-business and capitalist agenda. There are also concerns that an Obama victory would probably bring along with it a Congress split between Republicans and Democrats, making it tougher to avoid the "fiscal cliff" scenario. The term refers to the tax rises and spending cuts that are due to be enacted at the end of this year, considered a major threat to the U.S. economy.

There isn't a lot of fresh economic news today to excite market players. In Canada, building permits fell 13.2 per cent in September from August, a much steeper decline than the 2.8 per cent economists had forecast. But much of that was driven by losses in the non-residential sector. Residential housing permits actually rose by 0.4 per cent after two months of declines.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Institute for Supply Management said its services index for October came in at 54.2, a little below the 54.5 forecast.

Markets overnight were lower in both Asia and Europe. There is concern in Europe about an austerity vote in Greece on Wednesday on unpopular cost cuts and tax hikes that the European Central Bank and others want passed before they hand out more aid. Meanwhile, Europe's largest bank, HSBC, overnight reported quarterly profits that missed analysts' forecasts, not exactly lifting spirits.

There have been a few corporate developments worth noting so far today, including:

--Apple said it sold 3 million iPad minis and iPad 4s since Friday, when the mini was launched. It did not further break out the sales figures. Apple shares are up about 1.5 per cent.

--Time Warner Cable said third-quarter earnings more than doubled thanks to strong revenue gains in its high-speed data segment, but it was less than the Street was expecting. Shares are down 4.4 per cent.

--Netflix has adopted a shareholder rights plan to combat Carl Icahn's attempt to snap up a big stake in the company. Shares are down 0.7 per cent.

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