* Energy group leads way lower, oil drops below $57
* U.S. consumer mood rises, briefly helps TSX cut losses
* CanWest nears 52-week low as company reports steep loss
* Weekend G20 talks on global financial crisis in focus
TORONTO, Nov 14 (Reuters) - The Toronto Stock Exchange’s main index dropped nearly 3 percent on Friday on a slide in oil prices and on gloomy U.S. retail sales data that outweighed an unexpected rise in U.S. consumer sentiment.
The energy sector was the main source of weakness in the index, dragged lower as the price of oil dropped below $57 a barrel. [ID:nN14433824] The materials group was off 2.7 percent, helped by declines in issues such as Agrium (AGU.TO), down 7.4 percent at C$40.50, and Kinross Gold K.TO, down about 3 percent at C$16.43.
Potash Corp (POT.TO), which saw union workers ratify a new three-year contract offer at three of the company’s Saskatchewan mines, was down 3.7 percent at C$86.53.
U.S. consumer sentiment improved in November, according to a Reuters/University of Michigan report, as tumbling gasoline prices offset worries about unemployment and recession. [ID:nN14303681
The surprise reading helped alleviate briefly the worst fears of investors stunned by an earlier report showing a record decline in U.S. retail sales last month.[ID:nN14423234]
The consumer confidence reading was “a positive -- we’ll probably see slight increase in the Dow and the TSX,” said Steve Ibel, an institutional equities trader at Beacon Securities, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
“The U.S. retail sales number was absolutely atrocious. That’s probably the main drag, especially going into the holiday season. It just shows how weak the consumer is getting from a spending standpoint,” Ibel said.
Shortly after 11:00 a.m. (1600 GMT), the S&P/TSX composite index .GSPTSE fell 256.41 points, or 2.74 percent, to 9,096.37.
All but two of the index’s 10 main sectors were in the red. The consumer staples group and utilities, traditionally known as defensive stocks, eked out a small gain.
The information technology group lost 6.5 percent as two of its big names, Research In Motion RIM.TO and Nortel Networks NT.TO, were steeply lower. RIM was off 8 percent at C$49.32, while Nortel lost 14.4 percent to 77 Canadian cents.
Canwest Global Communications CGS.TO, Canada’s biggest media company, posted a steep fourth-quarter loss, which included a C$1 billion noncash writedown as the company struggled with soft television advertising revenue and regulatory issues. [ID:nN14417750] It approached a 52-week low at 73 Canadian cents.
The market was also focusing on news coming out of a weekend meeting of world leaders in Washington on a strategy to deal with the global financial crisis. [ID:nG7G8]
$1=$1.22 Canadian Reporting by Ka Yan Ng; Editing by Peter Galloway