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Canadians are now wondering if their economy can possibly continue on its march ahead when the U.S. is so clearly sputtering, and Friday morning's stronger-than-expected employment figures will do little to clarify the issue. Turns out, Canada added about 46,000 jobs in January and the unemployment rate improved to 5.8 per cent from 6 per cent in December. Is it full steam ahead?

"Today's upbeat jobs data lend some heavy-duty weight to the view that the Canadian economy is faring better than its U.S. counterpart," said Doug Porter, deputy chief economist at BMO Nesbitt Burns, in a note to clients. "However, a deeper dive in U.S. activity would no doubt eventually echo back into Canadian growth."

He also pointed out that the upbeat jobs picture could temper enthusiasm by the Bank of Canada to cut its key interest rate in the near-term. If investors agree with this assessment, stocks could be under pressure when trading activity begins.

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In the United States, stock index futures pointed toward a decline after Coventry Health Care Inc. and LifePoint Hospitals Inc. told shareholders that profits are slowing and provided further evidence of the downward trend in the U.S. economy. S&P 500 futures indicated a decline of 7 points on Friday morning, to 1333, while Dow Jones industrial average futures indicated a decline of 55 points, to 12,223. According to Bloomberg, the 362 companies in the S&P 500 that have reported fourth quarter earnings so far show that earnings are down an average of 20 per cent.

In Europe, major indexes were down slightly on Friday afternoon. The U.K.'s FTSE 100 fell 0.2 per cent and Germany's DAX index fell 0.1 per cent. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.4 per cent on Friday.

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