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Toronto stock market closes little changed amid generally positive economic data

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed little changed Friday as late-day caution about unrest in Ukraine competed with a mixed bag of economic data from Canada and the United States.

The S&P/TSX composite index had spent most of the session well into positive territory but closed down 5.15 points at 14,209.59.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.5 of a cent to 90.3 cents US after Statistics Canada reported that fourth-quarter economic growth came in at an annualized pace of 2.9 per cent.

That was better than the 2.5 per cent rise that had been expected. Also, the agency raised its initial estimates for the first and second quarters of 2013 and said the overall growth rate for the year was two per cent — the highest since 2011.

But gross domestic product contracted by 0.5 per cent in December amid severe winter weather conditions late in the month, which was more than the expected 0.3 per cent drop.

U.S. indexes also closed off session highs as the first revision to fourth-quarter GDP showed that the American economy grew at an annualized rate of 2.4 per cent, matching expectations but down from the original 3.2 per cent reading as fierce winter weather also hit huge parts of that country in December.

"The U.S. Q4 GDP number revision was not really a surprise," said Bob Gorman, chief portfolio strategist at TD Waterhouse, observing that the number will be revised again next month.

"That’s the kind of number we’re comfortable with and is fairly close to our forecast for this year (of) 2.6 per cent. Nothing very exciting there."

U.S. indexes had sharply improved mid-morning after the Chicago Purchasing Managers Index, a gauge of manufacturing activity in the American Midwest, showed stronger than expected expansion this month, coming in at 59.8, up from 59.6 in January. The University of Michigan's influential consumer confidence index came in at 81.6, up from 81.2 in January.

The Dow Jones industrials was 49.06 points higher at 16,321.71, the Nasdaq lost 10.81 points to 4,308.12, and the S&P 500 index gained 5.16 points to 1,859.45.

Investors were also cautious heading into the weekend as Ukraine’s acting president urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop “provocations” in Crimea and pull back military forces from the peninsula.

IG market analyst Stan Sahmu said that while traders for now are focused on economic indicators, "the Ukraine situation seems to be escalating in the background and could haunt markets in coming weeks."

There was also major acquisition activity as U.S. toymaker Mattel Inc. (Nasdaq:MAT) made a friendly takeover offer for Canadian company Mega Brands Inc. (TSX:MB), which has the world’s No. 2 line of construction sets. The deal values the Montreal-based firm at US$460 million, including debt.

Mattel is offering C$17.75 cash per share for Mega Brands. On Friday, Mega Brands stock charged ahead 35.58 per cent to $17.72.

The gold sector was the main decliner, down about 1.15 per cent as April bullion dropped $10.20 to US$1,321.60 an ounce.

The energy sector led TSX advancers, up 0.78 per cent while the April crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained 19 cents to US$102.76 a barrel.

The base metals sector was ahead 0.79 per cent even as May copper was a cent lower at US$3.19 a pound.

The TSX finished the week up four points with the market pressured by sliding gold stocks. But the Dow industrials ran ahead 218 points or 1.36 per cent for the week.

The Canadian Press

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