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TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian stocks ended at their lowest level in nearly a month on Tuesday, undermining the big gains they made at the start of the year, as mining and energy issues slid on a fresh round of euro zone credit downgrades and on concern about slowing U.S. retail sales.
Market confidence in the U.S. economy slipped after data showed retail sales rose less than forecast in January as consumers cut back on car purchases and did less online shopping. Sales increased 0.4 percent in the month, the Commerce Department said, less than the 0.7 percent rise expected by economists polled by Reuters.
"People are extremely concerned about the degree to which consumers are extended at this point in time," said Michael Sprung, president of Sprung Investment Management Inc. "A soft sales number just goes to confirm that there's not a lot of capacity there."
The weak U.S. data had a more pronounced effect in Toronto than it did on U.S. stock markets. The Toronto index's heavyweight materials group fell nearly 1 percent on concern about falling U.S. demand for Canadian resources.
Losses were led by miner Barrick Gold (ABX.TO), which edged down 0.7 percent to C$47.64 as bullion prices slid with the euro after Moody's warned it may cut its triple-A credit ratings for France, Britain and Austria.
"It was a shot across the bow," said Robert Gorman, chief portfolio strategist at TD Waterhouse, of the Moody's warnings.
Also in the materials group, fertilizer producer Potash Corp (POT.TO) dropped 0.5 percent to C$44.45 and diversified miner Teck Resources TCKb.TO slipped 0.8 percent to C$38.97, hit by another drop in copper prices.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE finished down 44.22 points, or 0.36 percent, at 12,354.47, its lowest close since January 18.
Declines in oil and gas producers were led by Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO), which tumbled nearly 5 percent to C$36.36 after the company said its Horizon oil sands upgrader in northern Alberta would be shut down for several weeks longer than expected to repair a processing unit.
Market optimism spurred by Greece's approval on Sunday of painful austerity measures to secure another debt bailout was shortlived as euro zone finance ministers dropped plans for a special face-to-face meeting on Wednesday to finalize 130 billion euro ($170.7 billion) bailout for Greece, and opted to hold a conference call instead.
The European headwinds helped push financials lower. Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO) led the losses, falling 0.3 percent to C$78.34.
Insurers, which have more exposure to risky European debt holdings, were pulled lower by Manulife Financial (MFC.TO), which fell 0.9 percent to C$11.87.
"We've seen the problems in Europe being prolonged by inaction," Sprung said. "More of the news in the last month has been towards the side that would see a slowdown in economic activity rather than help accelerate it."
Editing by Peter Galloway