CANADA STOCKS-TSX steady as oil weighs, banks and gold edge up

TORONTO, Dec 24 (Reuters) - Canada’s main stock index was little changed on Wednesday as a drop in the price of oil pulled down energy shares, offsetting small gains in financial stocks and gold miners ahead of the Christmas break.

Oil fell in thin trade as data from the American Petroleum Institute, an industry group, showed a bigger than expected increase in U.S. crude stocks for the week to Dec. 19.

“The oil stocks are reacting, as would be expected,” said John Kinsey, portfolio manager at Caldwell Securities. “They’ve had a little bit of a rally on oil, but now that it’s down again today they’re all following it down.”

The energy sector fell 2.1 percent. In the group, Suncor Energy Inc declined 2.8 percent to C$36.78 and Canadian Natural Resources dropped 1.7 percent to C$36.14.

But the decline in oil stocks was largely offset by modest gains in other areas, including financial shares, which rose 0.2 percent as U.S. unemployment claims figures extended a string of upbeat economic data releases in the United States.

The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index was down 8.86 points, or 0.06 percent, at 14,585.17.

Gold miners outperformed the broader materials sector, which itself was slightly positive, rising 1.3 percent even as gold prices slumped to near three-week lows. Heavyweight Goldcorp was up 1.4 percent at C$20.25.

“They’ve been beaten up, so this is maybe just a little bit of a catch up before year-end,” Kinsey said of the gold stocks.

Canadian equity markets will close early on Wednesday, shutting at 1 p.m. EST (1800 GMT) ahead of the Christmas holidays. Because of Canada’s Boxing Day holiday on Friday, they do not reopen until Monday.

$1=$1.16 Canadian Editing by Peter Galloway