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TSX heads lower amid China concerns; BMO, National Bank post solid earnings

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed lower Tuesday as concerns about China's economy depressed commodity prices and resource stocks while two major banks posted solid earnings reports.

The S&P/TSX composite index dropped 38.1 points to 14,188.98.

Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) had $1.06 billion or $1.58 of net income in the first quarter, up two per cent from a year earlier and five cents higher than forecast. Adjusted net income was $1.08 billion or $1.61 a share, which was also ahead of estimates.

At the National Bank (TSX:NA) quarterly net income ex-items came in at $384 million or $1.09 per share, well above expectations of $1.05 per share.

Bank of Montreal stock edged up six cents to $72.63 while National Bank gained 62 cents to $44.23.

"What has worked in the banks’ favour is the fact that the markets have been improving," said Kash Pashootan, portfolio manager and vice-president at First Avenue Advisory in Ottawa, a Raymond James company.

"And as they have improved, assets under management naturally have grown from the market increasing their value and as assets grow, the fees that they collect on those assets have grown."

The Canadian dollar slipped 0.16 of a cent to 90.2 cents US.

U.S. indexes were lower amid data showing the latest weather-related impact on economic data. U.S. home prices fell for the second straight month in December as severe winter weather, tight supply and higher costs combined to slow sales.

The Standard & Poor’s/Case-Shiller 20-city home price index declined 0.1 per cent from November to December.

The Dow Jones industrials fell 27.48 points to 16,179.66, the Nasdaq was down 5.38 points to 4,287.59 while the S&P 500 index gave back 2.49 points to 1,845.12.

Other data showed a dip in American consumer confidence. The Conference Board's index showed the index declined to 78.1 in February from 79.4 in January because of adverse weather conditions.

Commodity prices declined with markets rattled by a deceleration in the rise of Chinese housing prices in January and weakness in China’s currency.

Last week’s decline in the tightly controlled yuan prompted suggestions that Beijing might be trying to support exporters and help offset weakening domestic demand. That came after a HSBC survey showed Chinese manufacturing activity in February tumbled to a seven-month low.

The base metals component was off 0.88 per cent while March copper fell for a second day, down one cent to US$3.26 a pound.

The energy sector drifted 0.52 per cent lower as the April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell 99 cents to US$101.83 a barrel.

The gold sector was also a laggard, down about 1.1 per cent while April bullion gained $4.70 to US$1,342.70 an ounce. But the sector has rallied in recent weeks and is up 30 per cent year to date.

BlackBerry (TSX:BB) was a major gainer, up 86 cents or 7.91 per cent to $11.73 as the smartphone maker continued to benefit from a report from Bloomberg that automaker Ford will base its next-generation Sync system on the smartphone maker’s QNX and no longer use a system from Microsoft. The strong showing followed a run-up of almost seven per cent on Monday.

The Canadian Press

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