TSX drops amid slumping commodities

Canada's bank headquarters are shrouded in fog as a sign displays TSX numbers on December 30, 2011. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed well in the red Wednesday as a pair of reports cast doubt on the health of the economic recovery and pushed prices for oil and metals lower.

Manufacturing data illustrated how the eurozone economic crisis is worsening while another report highlighted slowing job creation in the U.S.

The resource-intensive S&P/TSX composite index fell 102.66 points to 12,230.12 as traders also took in some earnings disappointments while the TSX Venture Exchange slipped 0.24 of a point to 1,431.44.

Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) shares fell $1.09 to $38.80 as the world's biggest gold miner reported quarterly net earnings of $1.03 billion, or $1.03 per share, up from US$1 billion or $1 per share a year earlier.

But Barrick’s adjusted profit was US$1.11 a share, which missed analyst estimates by two cents. Barrick is also raising its dividend 33 per cent to 20 cents a share.

Loblaw Companies Ltd. (TSX:L) shares dropped 22 cents to $33.09 as its first-quarter profit was down 22 per cent from the same time last year at $126 million or 45 cents per share, before adjustments. Revenue was up about one per cent, rising just above $6.9 billion for the quarter.

The Canadian dollar was down 0.07 of a cent to 101.37 cents US.

U.S. markets were mainly lower after payroll firm ADP reported that the American economy cranked out only 119,000 private sector jobs in April, well below the consensus estimate of 170,000. The report was released two days before the U.S. government non-farm payrolls report for April comes out. Economists are looking for the U.S. economy to have created about 160,000 jobs last month.

The New York indexes closed well off the worst levels of the session with the Dow Jones industrial average declining 10.75 points to 13,268.57.

The Nasdaq composite index was up 9.41 points to 3,059.85 and the S&P 500 index slipped 3.51 points to 1,402.31.

Prices for oil and metals backtracked amid reports showing that manufacturing activity across the eurozone shrank at a faster pace than previously estimated in April.

The final April Markit purchasing managers index fell to 45.9 from a reading of 47.7 in March and was below an earlier estimate of 46. A reading of less than 50 indicates a contraction in activity.

The data showed accelerating downturns for Italy, Spain and Greece.

But even eurozone powerhouse Germany saw shrinking activity as its manufacturing PMI fell to a 33-month low at 46.2.

The tech sector was the biggest percentage decliner as shares in Research In Motion Ltd. (TSX:RIM) fell 68 cents or 5.11 per cent to $12.63. The drop comes on top of a decline of almost six per cent Tuesday after RIM unveiled its new BlackBerry 10 operating system.

The base metals sector fell 2.2 per cent as prices for copper, viewed as an economic bellwether since the metal is used in so many industries, also gave up ground. The May contract down six cents to US$3.79 a pound. Ivanhoe Mines (TSX:IVN) shed 39 cents to $10.96.

The energy sector lost 1.8 per cent as demand concerns sent the June crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange down 94 cents to US$105.22 a barrel. Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) fell $1.56 to $34.61.

The gold sector stepped back about 1.7 per cent with bullion prices also lower as the June contract fell $8.40 to US$1,654 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) faded 55 cents to $37.54.

Financials also contributed to the negative session with CIBC (TSX:CM) down 87 cents to $73.81.

The weak market performance came after North American indexes racked up gains Tuesday thanks to a surprisingly big rebound in a closely watched U.S. manufacturing survey. The Institute for Supply Management reported that U.S. manufacturing expanded last month at its strongest pace since June.

"While you had a run-up yesterday after the surprisingly good U.S. ISM, the biggest problem right now is the data is not conclusive right now as to the U.S. economy, although we’re seeing signs of improvement," said Chris Kuflik, wealth adviser at ScotiaMcLeod in Montreal.

Also depressing commodity prices Wednesday was a survey of purchasing managers by HSBC that shows China’s manufacturing contracted in April for the sixth straight month. HSBC said Wednesday that its purchasing managers index for April was 49.3, up from 48.3 in March. The index has remained below 50, the level indicating expansion, since October.

The HSBC survey tends to reflect private and export-sector activity more strongly than an official index released Tuesday that showed manufacturing gaining last month.

"The official Chinese PMI, which is mainly the large firms, seem to be doing better," added Kuflik.

"And so, effectively, with those two PMI reports, you have the one saying business conditions are not great, in the small- and medium-size firms, and in the bigger-sized firms things are going OK."

Elsewhere in earnings news, electricity and natural gas distributor Fortis Inc. (TSX:FTS) reported quarterly net earnings of $121 million or 64 cents per common share. That compared with $116 million, or 66 cents per share in the first quarter of 2011 and its shares inched up cents to $ .

And paper producer Domtar Corp. (TSX:UFS) announced a 29 per cent increase in its quarterly quarterly dividend to 45 cents. Its shares rose 73 cents to $86.91.

On Tuesday after the close, Yamana Gold Inc. (TSX:YRI) reported earnings of US$170 million or 23 cents per share for its latest quarter, up from $148.2 million or 20 cents per share a year ago. Revenue totalled $559.7 million, up from $476.1 million. Yamana shares gave back 38 cents to $14.15.