* TSX down 9.50 points, or 0.07 percent, at C$13,371.20
* Seven of the 10 main groups lower
* U.S. markets closed on Friday
By Solarina Ho
TORONTO, Dec 23 (Reuters) - Toronto’s main stock index closed marginally lower on Thursday with most sectors languishing in the red as trading slowed to a crawl ahead of the Christmas holidays.
The heavyweight financials group, which has gained in recent sessions, led all but three of the index’s main groups lower. Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO) was the big decliner, down 1.38 percent at C$57.05. Manulife Financial (MFC.TO) was off 1.15 percent to C$17.21.
The Canadian economy grew less than expected in October, prompting several analysts to predict the Bank of Canada would not be raising interest rates any time soon. [ID:nN23134993]
The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed down 9.50 points, or 0.07 percent, at C$13,371.20.
“It’s pretty quiet...We’re just batting down for the holidays. The U.S. is closed tomorrow, so probably we’re going to have the same sort of sleepy day tomorrow,” said Levente Mady, market strategist at Union Securities.
Tempering losses was a modest 0.19 percent gain among materials stocks and a 0.05 percent advance in the energy group. Consumer staples was also in positive territory, up 0.17 percent.
Fertilizer giant Potash Corp (POT.TO) was the most powerful mover on the positive side and was also one of the top net gainers. It climbed 1.4 percent to C$145.91. Fellow fertilizer producer Agrium Inc (AGU.TO) also rose, rising 1.7 percent to C$86.87.
Oil and gas shares made some modest headway, with Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) up 0.5 percent at C$44.60, and Penn West Energy Trust PWT_u.TO up 1.37 percent at C$24.36.
“Oil is up a dollar, so it’s not a big surprise energy’s doing a little bit better and leading things along with some of the other materials,” Mady said.
Oil prices surged above $91 a barrel to their highest level in more than two years on Thursday, buoyed by cold weather and depleted stockpiles. [O/R]
The TSX has been trading around two-year highs. In the United States, Wall Street marked its fourth week of gains on Thursday, the last day of trading for U.S. markets before Christmas. [.N]
“This time of year is historically very positive, so I wouldn’t be surprised if we went a little higher during the sessions that we’re open next week,” Mady said. “I‘m leaning toward a little bit of further upside going into the year-end here.”
Among individual companies, Ventana Gold VEN.TO, which urged shareholders to reject a C$1.5 billion ($1.49 billion) takeover offer from Brazilian billionaire Eike Batista, was up 1.76 percent at C$13.28. [ID:nSGE6BM0A8]
Baffinland Iron Mines BIM.TO, a target of a hostile takeover bid from Nunavut Iron Ore and a friendly bid by ArcelorMittal, finished up 2.21 percent to C$1.39 after the Toronto-based junior miner said drilling results from some deposits at its Mary River project on Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic intersected high-grade iron zones. [ID:nSGE6BM0BH] [ID:nN2242432]
($1=$1.01 Canadian) (Reporting by Solarina Ho; editing by Peter Galloway)