TORONTO (Reuters) - Canadian stocks swung back and forth before ending flat on Wednesday, as financial and mining gains were offset by energy losses as weak U.S. economic data and Europe's debt crisis weighed on sentiment.
Canada's main stock index outperformed its global counterparts, which fell on Wednesday as investors shunned riskier equities assets in favor of gold and low-yielding government bonds. <MKTS/GLOB>
"We're all over the place," said Levente Mady, market strategist at Union Securities in Vancouver. "On a very short-term basis there's just no rhyme or reason."
Six of Canada's 10 main sectors finished in the red, led by the heavyweight energy group, which sank 1.1 percent.
Declines were led by large oil and gas producers Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO), which slid 1.6 percent to C$27.12, Cenovus Energy (CVE.TO), down 0.8 percent at C$31.99 and Suncor Energy (SU.TO), which slumped 0.4 percent to C$28.86.
Bonavista Energy Corp (BNP.TO) tumbled 6.7 percent to C$14.43 and Enerplus Corp (ERF.TO) fell 3.8 percent to C$13.01 after the oil and gas producer said on Tuesday it will cut its monthly dividend by half as it looks to cope with weak commodity prices.
Paramount Resources Ltd's (POU.TO) shares dropped 7.7 percent to C$23.77 a day after Standard & Poor's lowered its credit rating on the Canadian natural gas producer because of weak gas prices and the company's hefty capital spending plans. It has fallen more than 12 percent in the last two trading sessions.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed up 0.57 of a point at 11,497.87. It lurched between a high of 11,580.39 and a low at 11,440.36.
Investors are expected to remain skittish ahead of a Greek vote on Sunday and on fears Spain's financing problems may spread to Italy. The question of whether Greece will remain in the euro zone after the election and the potential impact of Europe's woes on global growth took a toll on sentiment.
"This thing in Europe has got everybody pretty much on the sidelines right now," said John Kinsey, portfolio manager at Caldwell Securities Ltd.
In the near term, Canadian financials shrugged off Europe jitters, rising 0.6 percent as investors opted for Canada's generally conservative banks as a hedge against global economic uncertainty.
Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO) shares were up 0.6 percent at C$51.95 after the head of the bank's global wealth management division said on Wednesday it has no plans now to tamper with its 36 percent equity stake in Canadian mutual fund company CI Financial Corp (CIX.TO), but it might consider raising its stake if the opportunity arises.
The battered materials group, which includes gold and base metals miners, edged up 0.3 percent. The most influential gainers included Goldcorp Inc (G.TO), up 1.9 percent to C$41.23, Teck Resources TCKb.TO, which rose 2.9 percent to C$32.32, and First Quantum Minerals (FM.TO), up 5.6 percent at C$18.50.
Commodities were also pressured after an influential government adviser in China was quoted as saying the country's economic growth could fall below 7 percent in the second quarter if weak activity persists in June.
Mady said the TSX could slide another 3 or 4 percent to around 11,000, pending more headwinds from Europe.
"I find it remarkable that with all bad news that we're getting, not only from Greece and Spain but also with China slowing down and everything else, that you have the S&P 500 still over 1,300 and the TSX at 11,500."
In other company news, Dollarama Inc (DOL.TO) shares surged 6.6 percent to C$60.61 after Canada's largest dollar-store chain reported a bigger-than-expected quarterly profit and announced a stock repurchase plan on Wednesday.
Editing by Andrew Hay