TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's benchmark stock index fell on Thursday as gold miners and other resource stocks lost ground along with lower commodity prices, while a major oil producer surged on strong earnings.
Canadian Natural Resources Ltd (CNQ.TO), the country's largest independent petroleum producer, jumped 5.3 percent to C$40.50 after reporting quarterly profit that blew past analysts' expectations.
The surge helped the index's heavyweight energy group gain 0.2 percent even as oil prices fell after U.S. crude stocks hit an all-time high and official data showed Russia did not cut oil production in February. [O/R]
The materials group, however, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies and accounts for 12 percent of the index, lost 3.7 percent as gold and copper prices were pressured by a stronger U.S. dollar on growing expectations the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates this month. [GOL/] [MET/L]
"From a May hike or perhaps a June hike to now almost for sure a March hike is the catalyst that has led to the weakness in gold and obviously moved the gold miners," said Kevin Headland, senior investment strategist at Manulife Investments.
Gold XAU= prices were on track for their weakest session since December, while prices for copper CMCU3 and a string of other metals also fell. [GOL/][MET/L]
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE closed down 63.03 points, or 0.40 percent, at 15,536.65.
Six of the index's 10 main groups were in positive territory, but decliners outnumbered advancers by a 2.4-to-1 ratio.
Toronto-Dominion Bank (TD.TO), Canada's second-largest lender, 0.8 percent to C$68.98 even as a strong performance in both the United States and Canada helped it close off bank earnings season with quarterly earnings modestly ahead of market expectations.
In the past week, some major Canadian banks have reported quarterly earnings that handily beat forecasts, including Bank of Montreal (BMO.TO) which on Tuesday posted a profit that smashed market expectations. [L5N1GD4LR]
The financials group was barely higher overall.
First Capital Realty Inc (FCR.TO) declined 3.3 percent to C$20.36 after a shareholder said it would sell 9 million of the retail property developer's shares.
The Canadian economy grew at a faster pace than expected in the final quarter of last year, lifted by consumer spending and a rebound in activity in the housing market, while imports tumbled, data from Statistics Canada showed.
Editing by W Simon and James Dalgleish