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Toronto stock market closes lower, ends week higher on economic optimism

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed lower Friday at the end of a positive week where indications that the U.S. economy didn't take a major weather-related hit this winter helped ease the prospect of higher interest rates.

The S&P/TSX composite index was 26.07 points lower at 14,335.76.

The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.26 of a cent at 89.21 cents US in the wake of a better than expected reading on retail sales for January and slowing price pressures.

Statistics Canada said retail sales were up 1.3 per cent, against the 0.7 per cent rise that had been expected.

U.S. markets were also off the best levels of the session even as data suggested that the America's economic growth should bounce back following a harsh winter.

The Dow Jones industrials dropped 28.28 points to 16,302.77, while the Nasdaq fell 42.5 points to 4,276.79 and the S&P 500 index was down 5.49 points at 1,866.52.

The U.S. Conference Board’s index of leading indicators rose in February by the largest amount in three months. And a key manufacturing reading, the Philadelphia Fed's manufacturing index, rebounded in March from a negative reading in February.

The data helped persuade investors that the U.S. economy is strengthening to a point where it can withstand higher short-term interest rates.

"(The data) could have been a whole lot worse — all the talk earlier was that it was going to be a lot worse," said Fred Ketchen, manager of equity trading at ScotiaMcLeod.

"But when they finally get down to the numbers, they escaped a bit, we escaped along with them and it gives you a good feeling."

Federal Reserve chairwoman Janet Yellen said Wednesday that the U.S. central bank could begin raising short-term rates six months after it halts its bond purchases around year's end. The Fed has been steadily cutting back on those purchases, a key element of stimulus that had kept long-term rates low, since December.

The tech sector fell 1.75 per cent and BlackBerry (TSX:BB) shares dropped 42 cents to $10.19 as it announced the sale of a majority of its real estate holdings in Canada. Terms of the deal and the buyer were not disclosed.

The gold sector fell about 0.7 per cent even as the April gold contract gained $5.50 to US$1,336 an ounce after four days of declines as traders hoped the Ukraine crisis wouldn't worsen.

The industrials sector was down 0.6 per cent. Conductors, yard workers and other train workers at Canadian National Railways (TSX:CNR) have rejected a second tentative contract, prompting the company to suggest the talks go to a form of binding arbitration. Its shares were down 71 cents to $62.13.

Economic optimism sent oil and copper higher, with May copper up two cents to US$2.95 a pound. The base metals sector gained 1.47 per cent.

The May crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange was up 56 cents to US$99.46 a barrel and the energy sector rose 0.48 per cent.

The consumer staples sector was ahead 0.62 per cent as Loblaw Companies Ltd. (TSX:L) received approval from the Competition Bureau for its $12.4-billion purchase of Shoppers Drug Mart Corp. (TSX:SC), on the condition that it sell 18 stores and nine pharmacies. Loblaw shares rose 79 cents to $47.01 and while Shoppers gained 57 cents to $61.18.

Worries about Chinese growth and the Ukraine crises had depressed markets last week but the TSX ran ahead this week by 108 points or 0.76 per cent, held back by sliding gold stocks. The Dow industrials advanced 237 points or 1.48 per cent.

The Canadian Press

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