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Toronto stock market heads lower as U.S. government shutdown looms at midnight

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market was slightly lower late Monday morning as investors hoped that an 11th hour deal would emerge that would prevent a partial shutdown of the U.S. government at midnight.

The S&P/TSX composite index had been down as much as 110 points but was later off a slight 12.74 points to 12,831.34 before midday, helped along by gold stocks which turned positive.

The real estate sector was the major advancer, up 1.73 per cent as Brookfield Property Partners LP (TSX:BPY.UN) announced wants to buy out other shareholders of Brookfield Office Properties Inc. (TSX:BPO) in a stock-and-cash deal it valued at US$5 billion. Brookfield Property Partners already owns a 51 per cent stake in Brookfield Office Properties. Brookfield Office Properties shares ran ahead $2.39 or 14 per cent to $19.68 while Brookfield Property Partners units were unchanged at $20.

The Canadian dollar gained 0.17 of a cent to 97.23 cents US as Canada's economic growth during July came in better than expected.

Statistics Canada reported that the economy grew by 0.6 per cent in July, rebounding from a 0.5 per cent decline in June. The bounce, one of the biggest since the recession, was one-tenth of a point better than estimates.

U.S. indexes were also off the worst levels of the session, even though it's likely that Congress won't be able to agree on a compromise budget deal, setting the stage for a removal of non-essential government services.

The Dow Jones industrials dropped 114.06 points to 15,144.18, the Nasdaq fell 16.81 points to 3,764,.78 and the S&P 500 index lost 10.35 points to 1,681.4.

Some analysts suggested that losses were limited by the conviction that the two sides will have to compromise.

"It’s much ado about nothing," said John Stephenson, portfolio manager at First Asset Funds Inc.

"Ultimately, Obama is not going to defund Obamacare, the Republicans will reduce the tax on medical devices and a few other things so they can claim a victory. And then eventually it will be resolved."

An even more worrisome deadline comes up Oct. 17. That is when the U.S. government hits its debt limit and will begin running out of cash to pay its bills.

"Although it's unclear what the net effect will be, technical default still looms unless the debt limit is lifted," said BMO Capital Markets senior economist Michael Gregory.

The base metals sector led declines, down 1.35 per cent while December copper was up a cent at US$3.34 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) gave back 38 cents to C$27.72.

The energy sector fell 0.4 per cent amid major dealmaking in the component.

Pacific Rubiales Energy Corp. (TSX: PRE) intends to buy Calgary-based oil and gas company Petrominerales (TSX:PMG) in a proposed deal worth roughly $1.6-billion. Petrominerales shareholders would be paid $11 per share plus they’ll get one share of a new Brazil-focused exploration and production company called ExploreCo that will be based in Calgary.

Petrominerales shares jumped $3.97 or 51 per cent to $11.71 while Pacific Rubiales fell $1.16 to $20.38.

Worries about the economic impact of a U.S. government shutdown punished oil prices and the November crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange fell $1.05 to US$101.82 a barrel.

Prices also declined in the wake of data showing that Chinese manufacturing activity ticked up more slowly than expected in September.

A survey by HSBC Corp. showed that manufacturing activity expanded marginally this month, rising to 50.2 from August's 50.1. But it surprised analysts by coming in much lower than the 51.2 in a preliminary version earlier this month.

The gold sector was ahead 0.6 per cent as December bullion declined $4.40 to US$1,334.80 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) gained 39 cents to $26.94.

In other corporate developments, engineering firm SNC-Lavalin (TSX:SNC) has put up a "For Sale" sign on its stake in AltaLink, which owns more than half of Alberta’s electricity transmission grid. The plan is part of a broader strategy of reducing its investments in infrastructure assets and SNC’s shares gained $1.11 to $42.46.

Traders were also focused on Italy where Premier Enrico Letta faces a confidence vote on Wednesday after ministers from former premier Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right bloc pulled out of the five-month-old government. Italy has high debts that have compelled successive governments to instigate wide-ranging economic reforms.

European bourses also fell back as London's FTSE 100 index lost 0.8 per cent, Frankfurt's DAX fell 0.94 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 was down 1.36 per cent.

The Canadian Press

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