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Equities

Canada’s main stock index fell Thursday with energy shares following crude prices lower. South of the border, major indexes also declined with tech shares weighing.

At 9:38 a.m., the Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was down 78.03 points, or 0.42 per cent, at 18,550.26.

Energy shares fell more than 2 per cent.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 73.25 points, or 0.23 per cent, at the open to 32,346.81.

The S&P 500 opened lower by 9.80 points, or 0.25 per cent, at 3,879.34, while the Nasdaq Composite dropped 117.31 points, or 0.91 per cent, to 12,844.58 at the opening bell.

Early Thursday, Wall Street also got a better than expected reading on the employment market. The U.S. Labor Department said weekly initial jobless claims fell to 684,000. Economists had been expecting a number closer to 730,000. The final reading on fourth-quarter U.S. GDP also edged passed estimates, advancing at an annual rate of 4.3 per cent. Estimates had pegged growth at 4.1 per cent.

In this country, investors got results from Ski Doo maker BRP Inc.

BRP says it earned a profit attributable to shareholders of $264.3-million or $2.95 per diluted share for the three months ended Jan. 31, up from $118.4-million or $1.32 per diluted share a year earlier. Revenue totalled $1.82-billion, up from $1.62-billion.

Early Thursday, BRP also said it plans to offer electric models of each of its product lines by the end of 2026 and will invest $300-million over five years to achieve that goal.

The Globe’s Susan Krashinsky Robertson reports that one of Canada’s largest grocery retailers is cooperating with an industry group representing suppliers, to propose government regulation of the sector that would include the power to impose financial penalties on companies that do not follow the rules. Sobeys owner Empire Company Ltd. and Food, Health & Consumer Products of Canada announced that they are proposing the Canadian government adopt a code of conduct to oversee the relationships between retailers and the product vendors who stock their shelves.

Overseas, major European markets were down. The pan-European fell 0.69 per cent. Thursday will see a European leaders summit with the agenda expected to include vaccine rollout efforts.

Britain’s FTSE 100 lost 0.97 per cent. Germany’s DAX slid 0.88 per cent. France’s CAC 40 fell 0.73 per cent.

In Asia, Japan’s Nikkei gained 1.14 per cent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng slid 0.07 per cent.

Commodities

Crude prices fell as demand concerns triggered by rising coronavirus cases in some regions offset the impact of a stranded container ship blocking the Suez Canal.

The day range on Brent is US$63.00 to US$64.19. The range on West Texas Intermediate is US$59.70 to US$60.86.

“In line with general risk sentiment getting weighted down by COVID concerns that have seen investors seek shelter under the U.S. dollar umbrella, oil prices have slipped a touch in early trade,” Axi chief market strategist Stephen Innes said.

“Since oil remains hypersensitive to demand risks, traders may think it wise to take some chips off the table ahead of any possible untoward U.S. spring break virus headlines.”

Crude markets have kept a cautious eye on recent rises in COVID-19 cases and related restrictions in a number of European countries, including Germany which recently extend curbs to mid-April but reversed an earlier decision for a hard lockdown over Easter.

Meanwhile, India on Wednesday reported its highest one-day tally of new infections and deaths and said a new “double mutant” variant of the coronavirus had been found, according to a Reuters report.

“Oil prices have slipped back as concerns about demand outweighed the worries about an extended blockage in the Suez Canal,” CMC Markets’ Michael Hewson said.

Efforts continued Thursday to dislodge a 400-metre container ship that is wedged in the Suez Canal, blocking passage in both directions. The Ever Given vessel ran aground diagonally across the single-lane stretch of the southern canal on Tuesday.

In other commodities, gold prices held steady on Thursday as a stronger U.S. dollar countered concerns that surging COVID-19 cases across Europe.

Spot gold was little changed at US$1,733.48 per ounce. U.S. gold futures were down 0.1 per cent to $1,732.20 per ounce.

“One of the issues for gold is there seems to be two camps - for those worried about new lockdowns in Europe and ...those who have a very positive view of the economic outlook,” Michael McCarthy, chief market strategist at CMC Markets, said.

Currencies

The Canadian dollar firmed slightly in early going as its U.S. counterpart held relatively steady against a basket of world currencies.

The day range on the loonie is 79.43 US cents to 79.61 US cents.

“Markets have been quiet overnight,” RBC chief currency strategist Adam Cole said.

“Euro, Australian dollar and New Zealand dollar have seen small reversals of the losses into the North American close as stock futures have rebounded slightly, but moves have generally been small and there has been little news flow.”

There were no major Canadian releases on Thursday’s calendar.

On world markets, the U.S. dollar index was up less than 0.1 per cent on the day, at 92.658, having hit its highest since November 2020, at 92.697, overnight, according to figures from Reuters.

The euro was down 0.1 per cent against the U.S. dollar, at US$1.1807.

The Australian and New Zealand dollars were slightly higher, both up around 0.3 per cent against the U.S. dollar, recovering some of their losses from the previous two sessions.

More company news

AstraZeneca said its COVID-19 vaccine was 76 per cent effective at preventing symptomatic illness in a new analysis of its major U.S. trial - slightly lower than the level announced earlier this week in a report that was criticized for using outdated information. U.S. health officials had publicly rebuked the drugmaker for not using the most up-to-date information when it published an interim analysis on Monday that said the vaccine was 79 per cent effective.

Britain’s competition watchdog on Thursday gave Facebook and Giphy five working days to offer proposals to address its concerns over their merger deal, which could affect digital advertising and the supply of animated images. The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority began an initial investigation in January at a time when the U.S.-based social media network firm was under global regulatory scrutiny over antitrust concerns.

Economic news

(8:30 a.m. ET) U.S. initial jobless claims for week of March 20.

(8:30 a.m. ET) U.S. real GDP for Q4.

Also: Quebec budget

With Reuters and The Canadian Press

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