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By Leah Schnurr
TORONTO, March 3 (Reuters) - The Toronto Stock Exchange's main index finished lower on Monday as strength in resources was undercut by losses in the banking sector amid nagging worries over the continuing impact of the credit crunch.
The financial group shed 2.5 percent. The sector faces a number of ongoing headwinds, including fears of more writedowns related to the troubled U.S. housing market, jitters over the health of U.S. bond insurers, as well as pessimism over financial results.
Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO) gave up C$1.34, or 2.7 percent, to C$48.36, caught up in recent downward pressure after it warned it might have to write down its remaining C$495 million exposure to two troubled asset-backed commercial paper trusts.
Bank of Montreal, Canada's fourth-largest bank, is set to report quarter results on Tuesday. Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO), which is also expected to report results on Tuesday, was down C$1.29, or 2.7 percent, to C$46.50.
"It's just that the rosy period for banks is over for a couple of quarters at least," said John Kinsey, portfolio manager at Caldwell Securities Ltd. "The earnings are going to be very anemic for the next little while and that is in the market, too."
The S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed down 38.31 points, or 0.28 percent, at 13,544.38 with six of its 10 main groups in negative territory.
In a choppy session, the index fell more than 100 points in the late afternoon.
Also weighing on the index, BlackBerry-maker Research In Motion RIM.TO slid C$3.52, or 3.4 percent, to C$99.01, helping to pull the tech sector down 2 percent. Nortel Networks NT.TO was down 54 Canadian cents, or 6.4 percent, at C$7.94.
On the upside, shares in gold producers provided the Toronto benchmark with a bright spot. The subindex surged 3.8 percent as bullion prices set a record high for the fourth day in a row, moving toward $1,000 an ounce. Spot gold climbed as high as $989.30 before easing to $981.20.
The larger materials group added 1.9 percent, with Teck Cominco Ltd's TCKb.TO more heavily traded class B shares rose C$1.70, or 4.3 percent, to C$40.97 after the company announced a new copper resource at its Quebrada Blanca property in northern Chile.
The heavyweight energy sector rose 0.6 percent as crude also hit a new high on expectations that OPEC will not raise oil production at its meeting this week. Oil jumped to a high of $103.95 a barrel and later settled at $102.45.
Suncor Energy (SU.TO) gained C$2.37, or 2.3 percent, to C$103.87, and Canadian Oil Sands Trust COS_u.TO advanced C$1.48, or 3.6 percent, to C$43.18.
On the economic front, a decline in exports to the United States caused gross domestic product to shrink 0.7 percent in December, compared with market forecasts of a decline of 0.2 percent, a Statistics Canada report showed. The data strengthened chances of an aggressive interest rate cut by the Bank of Canada on Tuesday.
Given the struggling U.S. economy, "It's no surprise to me that Canada - selling most of its goods to the (U.S.) market - is going to be a little off the mark," said Adrian Mastracci, portfolio manager and president at KCM Wealth Management Inc., in Vancouver, British Columbia.
"I would think that this quarter that we're into right now might even be worse for Canada and the United States."
Market volume was 390 million shares worth C$7.2 billion. Decliners outpaced advancers 854 to 723. The blue chip S&P/TSX 60 index .TSE60 closed 1.48 point lower, or 0.19 percent, at 793.75.
In New York, stocks ended little changed as the commodities rally helped offset concerns over the mortgage market. The Dow Jones industrial average .DJI was off 7.49 points, or 0.06 percent, at 12,258.90, and the Nasdaq Composite Index was down 12.88 points, or 0.57 percent, at 2,258.60.
$1=$0.99 Canadian Editing by Peter Galloway