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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index ended modestly lower on Wednesday, as signs of a worsening economic slowdown in China and Europe weighed on commodity prices and resource shares, offsetting better-than-expected U.S. data.
U.S. crude oil futures dropped more than 4 percent to under $88 a barrel, dragging energy shares down 1.1 percent.<O/R>
Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) was the most influential decliner, down 2.9 percent to C$30.28. Suncor Energy (SU.TO) lost 0.6 percent to C$32.74 and Cenovus Energy (CVE.TO) fell 2 percent to C$34.53.
"I am actually pleasantly surprised to see how well the TSX is holding up," said Elvis Picardo, strategist and vice-president of research at Global Securities in Vancouver, noting energy shares were outperforming oil prices on Wednesday.
"There is a growing perception that there is a value in the sector. The multiples look attractive and I think it's positive that investors are trying to look beyond the day-to-day volatility in energy prices and they're focusing more on the sector fundamentals."
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE ended down 31.76 points, or 0.26 percent, at 12,359.47.
Four of the 10 sectors drifted lower, including heavily-weighted materials, following a slightly firmer start.
Trading will likely continue be choppy as investors remain uncertain about when Spain will request a bailout for its public finances and when the global economic picture will get decidedly rosier.
Data showed growth in the U.S. services sector picked up in September, defying economists' expectations for a slight decrease, while last month, the private sector added more jobs than forecast. The ADP data comes ahead of the closely watched monthly U.S. non-farm payrolls report on Friday.
Meanwhile, the latest data from surveys of purchasing managers' activity across the euro zone and China showed the growth outlook has not improved, despite the best efforts of central banks to stimulate their economies.
On the upside, some of the country's dividend-paying big banks were among the lead gainers, including Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO), up 0.3 percent to C$57.02.
"The market is trying to find direction and so far there isn't any particular direction, so I say buy for income," said Fred Ketchen, director of equity trading at Scotia McLeod.
"When you want to know what to do and you don't know what to do, get paid to wait, and dividends are the pay that you get to wait."
In company news, Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) rose 1.1 percent to C$39.39 after its new chief executive kicked off his tenure as head of the main transporter of Canadian oil exports with new plans to get growing volumes of light crude to Eastern markets and prospects for richer earnings.
Shares of Air Canada ACa.TO and WestJet Airlines (WJA.TO) jumped 4.4 percent and 1.8 percent respectively. They both reported record high traffic numbers for September.
Editing by Tim Dobbyn