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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index ended little changed on Monday after political tension in Syria and sluggish U.S. economic data weighed on sentiment, offsetting gains made by producers of gold and fertilizer on a jump in commodity prices.
The Toronto market's benchmark index eased from the three-month high it hit earlier in the session after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said the Syrian government was trying to cover up evidence of a deadly chemical attack, signaling the United States was edging closer to a possible military response.
Also undermining sentiment was data that showed orders for long-lasting U.S. manufactured goods had the biggest drop in nearly a year in July, as well as news that Silvio Berlusconi's center-right party threatened to bring down Italy's coalition government over a vote to expel the former prime minister from parliament.
Fertilizer stocks traditionally track prices of grain and oilseeds on the notion that farmers tend to buy more fertilizer in periods of high crop prices to maximize production.
Potash Corp shares, which were hit earlier this year by news of the breakup of a large potash cartel, had the biggest positive influence on the index, according to Reuters data. Potash stock jumped 2.4 percent to C$32.10; Agrium was up 3.3 percent to C$94.07.
"Both stocks were badly mauled by the fears of the breakup of the cartel," said John Ing, president of Maison Placements Canada, adding that "you would see a bounce with any glimmer of good news".
He said it was too early to tell what impact the post-consortium environment would have on the companies. "We don't know how Potash and Agrium will perform in a new pricing regime."
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed down 2 points, or 0.02 percent, at 12,760.30. Eight of the 10 main sectors on the index were in the red.
Industrials shed 0.9 percent. Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd (CP.TO) lost 2.3 percent to C$125.78.
Shares of energy companies gave back 0.2 percent, with Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO) declining 0.7 percent to C$35.81.
In the mining sector, Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO) added 2 percent to C$21.52, and Goldcorp Inc (G.TO) gained 0.8 percent to C$32.87 as U.S. gold futures firmed 0.6 percent, extending their 1.6 percent rally on Friday.
Silver prices also rose, helping lift Silver Wheaton Corp SLW.TO up 3 percent to C$29.99.
"It's a reflection of the fact that commodities have started to come off of their bottom," said Craig Fehr, Canadian market strategist at Edward Jones in St. Louis, Missouri. "We're starting to see a little bit of a rebound there."
In company news, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CM.TO) said it was still in talks to retain about half of its Aeroplan credit card portfolio after Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO) replaced it as the issuer of the popular flight rewards card.
CIBC added 1 percent to C$80.69, and TD was up 0.2 percent at C$88.96.
Editing by W Simon; and Peter Galloway