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At the open: Markets flat amid China, Crimea uncertainty

A Russian soldier stands next to a machine-gun outside the Ukrainian infantry base in Perevalne, Ukraine, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. The Group of 7 world leaders said in a statement released from the White House on Wednesday that they won't recognize results of a referendum for the Crimea region to split from Ukraine and join Russia.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

The Toronto stock market registered a slight gain Friday with traders going into the weekend cautious about China's economic performance and the Ukraine crisis.

The S&P/TSX composite index rose 9.83 points to 14,254.97 while the Canadian dollar was down 0.27 of a cent to 90.2 cents (U.S) after jumping more than half a cent Thursday.

New York indexes advanced with the Dow Jones industrials up 31.34 points to 16,140.23, the Nasdaq climbed 3.03 points to 4,263.45 and the S&P 500 index was ahead 2.75 points to 1,849.09.

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North American markets sold off Thursday as investors looked ahead to a referendum being held in the Crimea region of Ukraine on Sunday where residents will vote on whether they want to join Russia. The vote is being held two weeks after Russian troops initially moved into Crimea, where the country has a key naval base and many of the people are Russian speaking.

The West has called the vote illegitimate, urging Moscow to pull back its troops while preparing to impose harsh sanctions on Russia if that country does move to annex the territory. Meanwhile, Russia has warned again that it reserves the right to intervene in defence of ethnic Russians it says are under threat in eastern Ukraine.

China's growth prospects have also depressed markets this week in the wake of soft export and industrial production numbers and a statement by China's premier, Li Keqiang, that his country will keep this year's economic expansion strong enough to create new jobs. He said China will emphasize market-opening reform and the environment with an eye towards its official growth target of 7.5 per cent.

The TSX base metals segment has plunged about 11 per cent this week while copper, viewed as an economic proxy, dropped almost 10 per cent over the last five sessions. Copper is also used for financing in China and last week's first-ever corporate default raised worries that other failed companies could dump large quantities of the metal on markets, further depressing prices.

The base metals component gained 0.65 per cent as May copper rose three cents to $2.96 (U.S) an ounce.

Nervous traders sent gold higher for a fifth session with the April contract up $13.30 to $1,385.70 an ounce after closing Thursday at its highest close since September. The gold sector was the best performing group, up 2.1 per cent.

Financials were a drag, down 0.2 per cent.

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The energy sector was flat with April crude in New York up 62 cents to $98.82 a barrel.

On the corporate front, the Alberta cabinet has approved the Dover oilsands project, one of the last hurdles Athabasca Oil Corp. must clear before it can sell its 40 per cent interest to a Chinese partner. The news comes weeks after a nearby aboriginal band agreed to drop a lawsuit challenging the Alberta Energy Regulator's green-light of the project. Athabasca shares dipped three cents to $8.36.

European markets were negative with London's FTSE 100 index down 0.55 per cent, Frankfurt's DAX declined 0.5 per cent and the Paris CAC 40 fell 0.87 per cent.

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