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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index hit its lowest closing level in nearly five weeks on Wednesday, driven downward by falling financial and energy shares after the start of the U.S. earnings season flashed mixed signals for the global economy.
U.S. earnings season kicked off with aluminum company Alcoa (AA.N) posting a quarterly net loss and a weaker consumption outlook for China, while Chevron's (CVX.N) profit warning dragged on the energy sector. Those negative headlines were only partially offset by Yum Brands Inc (YUM.N), the parent company of KFC, which raised its full-year outlook after sales in China held up despite that nation's cooling economy. .N
"I think we came in to start off earnings season with fairly low expectations and it seems some investors were disappointed," said Youssef Zohny, portfolio manager at Stenner Investment Partners, part of Richardson GMP, in Vancouver.
"We saw earnings from a major industrial company as well as a major consumer company both doing business in China and we saw an interesting dynamic there where an industrial company was disappointing and a consumer company was better than expected."
Among the heaviest laggards on the TSX were the growth-sensitive cyclical sectors such as energy, down 1 percent, and financials, off 0.6 percent.
Gold miners were among the top gainers after a heavy sell-off in the previous session.
Aurico Gold AUQ.TO was the most influential name on the upside, surging nearly 21 percent to C$7.60 after announcing it will sell the Ocampo mine in Mexico, as well as adjacent exploration projects and a 50 percent stake in the Orion project, to tycoon Carlos Slim's Minera Frisco for $750 million.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE ended down 61.15 points, or 0.5 percent, at 12,212.42, its weakest close since September 6.
Analysts are forecasting the third-quarter earnings of Wall Street's S&P 500 .SPX companies will fall 2.3 percent from the year-earlier quarter, according to Thomson Reuters data, which would be the first drop in U.S. quarterly earnings in three years.
Continued uncertainty over whether, and when, Spain will apply for a bailout helped darken the market mood. A Spanish bailout is seen by some as the necessary next step to alleviating the euro zone's debt crisis.
In its semi-annual check on the world's financial health earlier this week, the International Monetary Fund said the euro zone crisis was an increasing threat to global financial stability and that confidence was "very fragile".
In Canadian company news, pharmacy chain Jean Coutu Group Inc PJCa.TO rose 0.3 percent to C$14.57 after reported a rise in adjusted quarterly earnings on Wednesday as its generic drug manufacturing subsidiary, Pro Doc, posted a double-digit gain in sales and operating income.
Earnings from U.S. warehouse chain Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O) were also a bright spot. The company reported a 27 percent jump in fourth quarter profit on higher sales and membership fees.
"I thought the earnings that came out from Yum Brands ... Costco this morning and Jean Coutu were pretty meaningful. The companies continue to report good earnings and modest economic growth continues," said Barry Schwartz, vice president and portfolio manager at Baskin Financial Services.
Reporting by Claire Sibonney; Editing by Theodore d'Afflisio