March 31, 2008 / 3:02 PM / in 9 years

UPDATE 1-Toronto stocks steady after volatile start

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TORONTO, March 31 (Reuters) - Toronto's main stock market index was little changed by midmorning on Monday, after trading on both sides of the break-even mark as investors looked ahead to the start of a new quarter.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE was up just 15.56 points, or 0.1 percent, at 13,249.35. Earlier, the index touched a high of 13,335.95. This follows a drop of more than 170 points on Friday.

Seven of the TSX index's 10 main groups were higher, including the energy group which rose 0.8 percent and the heavily weighted financial group which added 0.5 percent. Consumer staples shares climbed 1 percent.

"People are getting anxious for the start of a new quarter," said Steve Ibel, an institutional equities trader at Beacon Securities in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

"I think we are going see the markets pick up a bit and see some more buyers come into the market as some people deploy cash in some selected areas."

The index is down more than 2.5 percent for the quarter amid worries over the health of the global economy and the state of the financial sector.

Energy shares firmed as the price for U.S. crude oil recovered from earlier losses to gain 0.9 percent to $106.50 a barrel, in response to a lull in fighting in Iraq's southern city of Basra which eased fears of potential supply disruptions from the region.

Most of the country's biggest producers rose including EnCana Corp (ECA.TO) which added C$1.62 to C$77.98 and Nexen Inc NXY.TO, which rose 26 Canadian to C$30.35.

But Imperial Oil (IMO.TO) dropped 33 Canadian cents to C$53.80 on a report that a key permit for its C$8 billion ($7.85 billion) Kearl oil sands project has been revoked by the federal government, potentially delaying construction of the planned mine.

Financial shares, which have firmed recently after taking it on the chin earlier in the quarter over global economic worries and lending issues, also rallied.

Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO) added 62 Canadian cents to C$61.60 and Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO) rose 35 Canadian cents to C$44.87.

TD Bank said on Monday it completed its $7.7 billion cash and stock acquisition of Commerce Bancorp.

Putting a lid on the index's broader advance was a 0.6 percent dip in the resource-laden materials group, despite a higher gold price.

Base metals miner Teck Cominco TCKb.TO dropped 55 Canadian cents to C$42.35 and Barrick Gold (ABX.TO), the world's biggest producer, slipped 30 Canadian cents to C$45.30.

Uranium One UUU.TO fell 41 Canadian cents to C$3.52 after reporting a narrower loss in the fourth quarter. ($1=$1.03 Canadian) (Reporting by Scott Anderson; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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