By Malcolm Morrison, The Canadian Press
TORONTO – The Toronto stock market closed lower for a third session Thursday as further weak employment data raised worries about slowing U.S. economic conditions.
The S&P/TSX composite index fell 59.07 points at 12,363.05.
On Wednesday, two soft economic reports and growing geopolitical risks had sent the main index tumbling 260 points, erasing TSX gains for the year.
The Canadian dollar edged up 0.21 of a cent to 98.78 cents US.
U.S. indexes were higher, clawing back a chunk of the losses sustained on Wednesday amid data showing the number of Americans seeking unemployment insurance rose to a four-month high last week.
The U.S. Labor Department reported that weekly applications increased 28,000 to a seasonally adjusted 385,000. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose to 354,250. The report, which comes out Friday, had been expected to show a total of 190,000 jobs were created in the U.S. last month.
The Dow Jones industrial average gained 55.76 points to 14,606.11 after falling 112 points Wednesday, while the Nasdaq composite index edged 6.38 points higher to 3,224.98 and the S&P 500 index was up 6.29 points at 1,559.98.
Statistics Canada also issues its March jobs report on Friday. Economists have had widely different views on what to expect following an unexpectedly big surge in February, when employment rose by 51,000 jobs.
Other data showed the U.S. service sector expanding in March at a slower than expected pace.
Traders were also rattled by threats from North Korea.
Early Thursday, North Korea warned that its military has been cleared to attack the U.S. though experts say it has not demonstrated it has missiles capable of long range or accuracy. Washington said it was working to defuse the situation.
While the declines over the last three sessions have left the TSX under water, New York has fared much better with the Dow industrials still ahead more than 10 per cent on what had been a steady stream of positive economic data and easing by the U.S. Federal Reserve.
Also, the market is suffering from the fact that the TSX is heavily-weighted towards resource stocks, which in turn are influenced by commodity prices that have been under selling pressure.
And it’s not just the TSX that is suffering.
“It’s other markets that are taking it on the chin also and it seems like the U.S. is reigning supreme here and it’s tough to see what’s going to knock it off its perch,” said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at MacDougall, MacDougall and MacTier.
The energy sector led decliners, down 1.85 per cent as the June crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped $1.19 to US$93.26 a barrel after falling almost $3 on Wednesday. Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE.TO) gave back 91 cents to C$29.99 while Suncor Energy (TSX:SU.TO) dropped 89 cents to $29.28.
Oil plunged after the U.S. Energy Department said crude oil supplies grew by 2.7 million barrels to 388.6 million barrels in the week ended March 29. The U.S. supply of oil is now 7.2 per cent above year-earlier levels and the highest since July 27, 1990.
Miners were in positive territory after leading the TSX lower Wednesday.
The gold sector was up about 2.25 per cent after sliding almost five per cent on Wednesday, as the June bullion contract on the Nymex lost $1.10 to US$1,552.40 an ounce. The gold sector has declined about 22 per cent year-to-date as precious metal miners deal with prices that haven’t kept pace with increasing operating costs.
“And the other thing that has caught up to the gold sector is, they’ve always traded at a high valuation and maybe people are re-evaulating that,” Nakamoto said.
The base metals group was up almost two per cent while May copper shed early losses to gain two cents at US$3.35 a pound following a five-cent slide. First Quantum Minerals (TSX:FM.TO) gained 65 cents to C$18.61 while Rio Alto Mining (TSX:RIO.TO) improved by 25 cents to $4.45.
Meanwhile, Japan announced that it is making a sweeping shift in its monetary policy that aims to raise inflation and get the world’s third-largest economy out of a long slump.
The Bank of Japan announced a policy overhaul intended to double the money supply and achieve a two per cent inflation target, with a time horizon of about two years.
On the corporate front, Lululemon Athletica Inc. (TSX:LLL.TO) shares gained $1.12 to $66.38 after it said Wednesday that its chief product officer is leaving the retailer, just weeks after it pulled its black Luon pants from store shelves because they were too sheer. Meanwhile, RBC Capital Markets analyst Howard Tubin has cut his rating on Lululemon to “sector perform” from “outperform” and cut his target price on the stock to $70 from $80, saying Waterson was instrumental in the design process at the company.
Facebook shares were up 82 cents to US$27.03 after CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company is introducing a mobile experience. The new product, called “Home” because it resides on the home screen of Android phones, is a family of apps designed around people’s Facebook connections.
The TSX Venture Exchange lost 11.91 points to 1,026.72.