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TORONTO (Reuters) - Toronto's main stock index retreated slightly on Thursday after hitting a two-year high as weakness in gold miners held back the materials group and investors were wary of taking on more risk before the new year.
All three heavyweight sectors -- financials, materials and energy -- were weaker, on the back of softer bullion and oil prices and after upbeat U.S. economic data failed to lift the market further.
Among the heaviest decliners were Barrick Gold, down 1 percent at C$52.61, Goldcorp Inc, off 0.6 percent at C$45.34, and Cenovus Energy, down 0.8 percent at C$32.95.
"We're a little on a hangover here," said Barry Schwartz, vice-president and portfolio manager at Baskin Financial Services, pointing out that it was still a record year for gold.
"The party of the last six months has been terrific. The last six months have gone straight up on the back of base metals, commodities, materials, and I guess we're just getting some fatigue as we head into the last couple trading days of the year."
However, base-metal miners and fertilizer companies extended their recent ascent. Teck Resources shot 1.8 percent higher to C$60.96, while Agrium also jumped 1.8 percent to C$91.83.
Schwartz noted that huge demand from China has been worked in favor of both of those commodity groups.
The materials group has been one of the most influential TSX sectors of the year and the last several sessions. Copper surged to a record high on Thursday and base-metal miners gained 0.6 percent.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index closed down 14.76 points, or 0.11 percent, at 13,434.41. Seven of the 10 main groups were lower but earlier, the index had reached as high as 13,493.64, its strongest level since August 2008.
Economic news from the United States was strong but had little impact on market direction.
New U.S. claims for jobless aid hit their lowest level in more than two years last week and factory activity in the Midwest grew in December at its fastest pace since 1988, evidence the recovery was gaining steam.
"When the market doesn't rally with all this good news, it flashes a bit of a warning sign. Sometimes it's a turning point," said John Kurgan, senior market strategist at Lind-Waldock, though he cautioned light trading may also be exacerbating moves by the TSX composite.
He said his technical analysis was showing a sell signal, partly because the index has climbed about 16 percent since late August.
Kurgan said he expects the new year will probably start with bouts of weakness but forecasts an overall rise in 2011.
"(It's) not a bad year overall but we will start in a bit of a handicap position where we will get a bit of a correction," he said.
In individual company news, Baffinland Iron Mines bounced up 3 percent to C$1.38 after ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel producer, extended the deadline on its takeover bid for the company, but did not alter the terms of its offer.
With additional reporting by Ka Yan Ng; editing by Jeffrey Hodgson