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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian stocks slipped on Monday, tracking global markets lower as investors reacted to a lack of visible progress in budget deficit discussions in Washington and worried over whether Greece will receive emergency aid to keep it financially afloat.
Toronto's main stock index also followed commodity markets lower, as traders awaited any advance in talks over a series of spending cuts and tax hikes scheduled to begin next year, which threaten to drag the economy back into recession.
"The biggest driver these days undoubtedly is the fiscal cliff issues in the U.S.," said Elvis Picardo, strategist and vice president of research at Global Securities in Vancouver.
Seven of the 10 sectors traded lower, with resource companies among the biggest drags as commodity prices retreated. .TRJCRB
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE ended down 28.19 points, or 0.23 percent, at 12,185.05. It had hit a two-week high on Friday. Seven of the 10 sectors were weaker. Financials, the biggest group on the index, were little changed, supporting by expectations for healthy upcoming earnings.
"Last week was a terrific week for global equity markets including the TSX, so we came in this week expecting a little bit of giveback after the strong rally last week. That's happened in a fairly muted fashion," added Picardo.
Investors also kept an eye on Europe, though problems there are seen to have moved to the back burner for now.
In Spain, separatists in Catalonia won a large majority in regional elections, fueling fears that Spain could split apart and underscoring the backlash against the country's austerity measures.
Euro zone finance ministers and the International Monetary Fund began their third attempt in as many weeks to release emergency aid for Greece on Monday.
"The political situation in Europe is not resolved," said Gavin Graham, president at Graham Investment Strategy. "And yet even if the Greek situation does come to a solution, it will lead to more austerity, which has led to 50 percent youth unemployment and 25 percent overall in countries like Greece and Spain."
In addition, if Greece were to exit the EU, Graham said, investors might expect the same from Spain and Portugal, which would then reverberate through the French and German banks that have huge exposure to those countries' sovereign debt.
Also weighing on the market was the announcement that Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney will leave to head the Bank of England next year.
Pharmacy benefit manager Catamaran Corp CCT.TO was one of the most influential decliners on the index, falling 4.3 percent to C$47.25 after U.S. insurer UnitedHealth Group Inc (UNH.N) gave a weaker-than-expected 2013 earnings forecast.
"When one of the behemoths in healthcare services sneezes, everyone else catches a cold," said Maxim Group analyst Anthony Vendetti.
SNC-Lavalin Group Inc (SNC.TO) shares were down 2.2 percent to C$40.63. A former executive of the construction company has been indicted in Switzerland on allegations he laundered money, according to media reports.
Private equity firm Onex Corp OCX.TO eased 0.7 percent to C$40.25 after it said it will buy U.S.-based insurance broker USI for $2.3 billion.
On the upside, shares in Research In Motion RIM.TO rose 2.5 percent to C$11.90 after CIBC analyst Todd Coupland lifted his rating on the stock by two notches to 'sector outperformer.'
Coupland, the third analyst in recent weeks to change his view on the stock, said RIM's shares look materially undervalued at current levels given the so far positive feedback being received from carriers and developers on its soon-to-be-launched Blackberry 10 devices.
Coupland also more than doubled his price target on shares of RIM to $17 from $8.
Additional reporting by Alastair Sharp; Editing by James Dalgleish