Materials sector leads Toronto market declines, U.S. indices largely flat

TORONTO — The materials sector led a broad-based decline Thursday on Canada's main stock index while U.S. markets were largely flat.

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 62.42 points at 16,087.55 after trading as high as 16,144.46 on fairly low volume of 196.6 million shares.

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The materials index had the biggest declines at 1.84 per cent after the April gold contract ended down US$14.20 at US$1,295.10 an ounce.

Most sectors were down, with only energy and information technology notching tiny gains.

The continued climb in oil prices, with the April crude contract up 35 cents at US$58.61 per barrel, helped offset the losses from the gold price decline, said Kash Pashootan, CEO and chief investment officer at First Avenue Investment Counsel Inc.

"That push and pull is resulting in a neutral outcome."

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average closed up 7.05 points at 25,709.94. The S&P 500 index was down 2.44 points at 2,808.48, while the Nasdaq composite was down 12.50 points at 7,630.91.

Thursday's slight declines came after several positive days where gains were helped along by technical factors including the soon to close window for company share buybacks, monthly options expiring, and low volatility, said Pashootan.

"You are seeing meaningful inflows of capital from corporations, buying back their shares and pushing share prices higher."

He said the recent gains continue to be disconnected from broader economic factors, including new U.S. home sales down more than expected in January.

"We are continuing to witness a disconnect between the optimism that is taking place in the equity markets and what the fundamentals are telling us."

The markets largely shrugged off a delay in a meeting between the U.S. and China leadership on trade, said Pashootan.

"For the time being you're seeing China-U.S. talks behave as more the side dish to volatility as opposed to the main course, which is what we saw in 2018."

The Canadian dollar averaged 75.04 cents US, unchanged from Wednesday.

The April natural gas contract was up four cents at US$2.86 per mmBTU. The April gold contract ended down US$14.20 at US$1,295.10 an ounce and the May copper contract was down four cents at US$2.89 a pound.

Companies in this story: (TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X)

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