CANADA STOCKS-TSX down, ends 8 days of gains; lower commods drag resource stocks

(New throughout, updates prices and market activity, adds comments from portfolio manager, details on Encana)

* TSX ends down 72.55 points, or 0.54 percent, to 13,311.05

* Six of the TSX’s 10 main groups were lower

TORONTO, March 8 (Reuters) - Canada’s main stock index broke an eight session winning streak on Tuesday as lower commodity prices and weak Chinese data weighed on resource stocks, but financials and defensive stocks rose and the index still held near three-month highs.

The energy group retreated 3.0 percent, while the materials group, which includes precious and base metals miners and fertilizer companies, lost 2.5 percent.

Commodity related stocks succumbed to profit taking after recent sharp gains, said Kevin Headland, director of capital markets and strategy at Manulife Asset Management.

Strength in those sectors has helped lift the index more than 15 percent since it hit an almost 3-1/2-year low in January.

The Bank of Canada monetary policy decision on Wednesday encouraged a “wait and see” approach, Headland added.

The most influential movers on the index included Canadian Natural Resources Ltd, which fell 3.3 percent to C$33.56, and Encana Corporation, which declined more than 13 percent to C$6.99.

Encana is exploring the sale of more non-core assets in the United States and Canada, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Oil prices fell as Goldman Sachs suggested the rally was unsustainable and an industry group said U.S. stockpiles swelled to record highs again last week.

U.S. crude prices settled at $36.50 a barrel, down 3.69 percent. Copper retreated further from last week’s four-month highs and gold dipped 0.5 percent, hovering just below 13-month high.

First Quantum Minerals Ltd tumbled more than 16 percent to C$6.12, while Barrick Gold Corp was down 3.2 percent at C$17.86.

Far worse than expected Chinese trade data stoked concerns about the health of the global economy, although the data was affected by the timing of the Lunar New Year holidays.

China is a major consumer of raw materials, among them Canadian.

However, fears of a “hard landing” in China were played down by Headland, who pointed to an improving domestic economy.

The Toronto Stock Exchange’s S&P/TSX composite index fell 72.55 points, or 0.54 percent, to 13,311.05. Six of the index’s 10 main groups were in negative territory.

Consumer staples rose 1.1 percent and telecommunication stocks advanced 1.2 percent as defensive sectors outperformed.

Bce Inc rose 1.5 percent to C$58.44, while Loblaw Companies Ltd was up 1.2 percent at C$71.90.

The financials group rose 0.6 percent, including a 1.2 percent advance in the shares of Bank of Nova Scotia to C$61.23. (Reporting by Fergal Smith; Editing by David Gregorio)