March 24, 2016 / 11:33 AM / in a year

TSX slips as banks weigh; energy stocks bounce with oil

A man walks past an old Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) sign in Toronto, June 23, 2014.Mark Blinch

TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index fell to a two-week low on Thursday before paring some losses, as bank stocks retreated amid rising chatter from U.S. central bankers about hiking interest rates and as a recovery in oil prices helped energy stocks.

Another U.S. interest rate hike "may not be far off," St. Louis Federal Reserve President James Bullard said on Thursday, the latest Fed official to speak in support of rate hikes this year after the Fed stood pat last week.

"That's caused the market to pull back a bit," said Allan Small, a senior investment advisor at HollisWealth.

But while the Canadian index ended in the red, it pared much of its early losses on a recovery in the price of oil after a renewed drop in U.S. oil rigs. [O/R]

"The reversal coincided with the rig count in the U.S. that came out," Small said. "That's helped; the price of oil has come back a little bit and so have some markets."

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE ended down 21.37 points, or 0.16 percent, at 13,358.11. It touched its lowest since March 7 at 13,255.47.

The energy group climbed 0.9 percent, with Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO) adding 1.3 percent to C$35.22, Suncor Energy Inc (SU.TO) up 0.8 percent at C$35.86 and pipeline operator Enbridge Inc (ENB.TO) up 0.6 percent to C$49.57.

The most influential weights were bank stocks, including Royal Bank of Canada (RY.TO), which fell 1.3 percent to C$73.97, and Bank of Nova Scotia (BNS.TO), which declined 1.3 percent to C$62.42. The heavily weighted financials group fell 1 percent.

"We've seen a pretty good run in the banks back to a more respectable price level," HollisWealth's Small said. "I think they still have more room to run up and I would be a buyer definitely if this weakness continues."

Barrick Gold Corp (ABX.TO) will face a class-action U.S. lawsuit regarding its now halted Pascua-Lama gold-mine project on the border of Argentina and Chile.

Nonetheless, the stock rose 2.4 percent to C$17.96 as spot gold XAU= stabilized after hitting a four-week low. [GOL/]

The overall materials group, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, added 0.7 percent.

Bombardier Inc (BBDb.TO) gained 0.8 percent to C$1.33 after a company executive said talks with the Canadian government about financial support are "going well".

Canadian Pacific Railway (CP.TO) declined 0.4 percent to C$171.15 after it was sued by a grain trading company over 2013 and 2014 service disruptions.

Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and James Dalgleish

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