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At midday: Tech stocks send Nasdaq plunging Add to ...

U.S. stocks dipped on Thursday, with the Nasdaq underperforming other major indexes, as investors once again sold high-flying tech and biotech shares and bought defensive sectors.

Biotech and large technology stocks, some of the biggest gainers in 2013, slumped on Thursday. Both the Nasdaq biotechnology index and the NYSEArca biotech index lost more than 3 per cent. The S&P technology sector shed 1.2 per cent as one of the worst-performing S&P sectors.

Google Inc, which was down 2.8 per cent at $548.62, and Biogen Idec Inc, down 2.9 per cent at $292, were among the biggest drags on the S&P 500.

With the losses, biotech gave back all of the gains it amassed late Wednesday after the release of minutes from the latest Federal Reserve policymakers’ meeting showed members as more supportive of keeping rates low than earlier expected.

“The last couple of days, the markets have been focused on what the Fed is going to do and when a rate hike is likely. Yesterday we got the news once again that it is not likely, so our favorites went up,” said Kim Forrest, senior equity research analyst, Fort Pitt Capital Group in Pittsburgh.

Reception for three initial public offerings was mixed.

Shares of bailed out auto-lender Ally Financial Inc fell in its market debut, the biggest U.S. initial public offering so far this year. Its shares were down 2.2 per cent at $24.46.

Two biotech companies – Cerulean Pharma Inc and Adamas Pharmaceuticals Inc – went in opposite directions on their first trading day. Cerulean was up 6.4 per cent at $7.45 while Adamas fell 3.2 per cent to $15.48.

By contrast, of the 10 major S&P sector indexes, most defensive sectors advanced, led by telecoms, utilities and consumer staples.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell 118.96 points or 0.72 per cent, to 16,318.22, the S&P 500 lost 21.39 points, or 1.14 per cent, to 1,850.79 and the Nasdaq Composite dropped 91.472 points, or 2.19 per cent, to 4,092.428.

The Toronto stock market was lower Thursday as weak trade data from China raised fresh questions about the pace of growth in the world’s second-largest economy.

The S&P/TSX composite index fell 45.26 points to 14,490.32 as China’s exports fell 6.6 per cent in March from a year earlier, well below analyst expectations of single-digit growth. Imports to China contracted by 11.3 per cent.

The Canadian dollar dipped 0.33 of a cent to 91.65 cents (U.S.).

The Chinese trade data raised worries that the world’s second-biggest economy will have trouble meeting its official target of 7.5 per cent growth this year. It also pushed some analysts to lower already reduced expectations for growth.

Barclays Bank, for one, lowered its first-quarter gross domestic product forecast to 7.2 per cent year over year from 7.3 per cent.

Financial stocks led TSX decliners with Manulife Financial down 21 cents to $20.64.

Falling rail stocks helped push the industrial sector down with Canadian Pacific Railway down $2.82 to $159.25.

The energy sector was up 0.24 per cent while the sluggish Chinese data helped push the April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange down 15 cents to $103.45 (U.S.) a barrel.

Copper was unchanged at $3.04 a pound, but the metal has already fallen 11 per cent this year amid lower expectations for Chinese economic growth. The base metals sector was also unaffected by the data, up 0.2 per cent. Analysts point out this is a sector that already tumbled almost 30 per cent last year on economic weakness.

“You had reached the point where (mining stocks) had sold off so badly, you actually get to the point where you may get a positive surprise of, oh, things weren’t as bad as we thought they were going to be,” observed Colin Cieszynski, senior market analyst at CMC Markets Canada.

The gold sector advanced 0.1 per cent while bullion prices headed higher with the June contract up $14.30 to $1,320.20 an ounce.

Goldcorp Inc. is upping its offer for Montreal-based Osisko Mining Corp., which has been opposing the takeover proposal. Goldcorp says Osisko shareholders would receive $2.92 cash, up from $2.26, and 0.17 of a Goldcorp common share, up from 0.146 of a share, in the new proposal. Goldcorp says its revised offer values Osisko at $3.6-billion or $7.65 per Osisko share. Goldcorp declined 66 cents to $27.18 while Osisko climbed 10 cents to $7.65.

In earnings news, Shaw Communications Inc. posted quarterly net income of $222-million or 46 cents a share, compared with net income of $182-million and EPS of 38 cents in the same quarter of 2013. Revenues were $1.27-billion, up two per cent from $1.25-billion last year and its shares edged up 30 cents to $26.74.

Postmedia Network Canada Corp.had a quarterly net loss of $25.3-million or 63 cents a share, up from a year ago loss of $15.8-million or 39 cents. Postmedia says its revenue in the latest quarter was down 9.1 per cent from a year ago to $162.5-million, with most of the decline from print advertising sales. Its shares were unchanged at $1.36.

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