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At midday: Earnings add little spark to TSX

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, February 13, 2013.

BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

The Toronto stock market lost early momentum and was little changed by late morning Wednesday amid a slew of earnings news and lacklustre moves in commodity prices.

The S&P/TSX composite index edged up 4.25 points to 12,793.27 while the TSX Venture Exchange was up 7.76 points at 1,206.7.

U.S. indexes were generally weak as January retail sales met expectations, with the Dow Jones industrials down 26.15 points to 13,992.55.

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Equities have been strong performers until recently, buoyed largely by healthy growth in corporate earnings, which helped the S&P 500 to rise 6.5 percent so far this year. The Dow industrials are about 1 per cent away from an all-time intraday high, reached in October 2007.

Those gains could leave the market vulnerable to a pullback as investors take profits amid a dearth of new catalysts. While analysts see an upward bias in stocks, recent daily moves have been small and trading volumes light with indexes at multi-year highs.

The Nasdaq was 15.57 points higher at 3,202.06 and the S&P 500 index gained 2.72 points to 1,522.15.

The S&P 500 was well over its 50-day moving average of 1,460.92, a sign the market could be overbought.

U.S. retail sales ticked up 0.1 per cent last month after a 0.5 per cent rise in December. January's increase was in line with expectations and was the smallest in three months after higher taxes cut into the wages of Americans.

"However, given continued job gains through the start of this year, we are assuming that this slowing in sales will prove temporary and that greater strength will emerge going forward," said RBC assistant chief economist Paul Ferley.

Analysts think that trading is taking place amid rising caution as a March 1 deadline looms that would see steep automatic spending cuts take effect to the tune of $85-billion.

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"I think there is some reluctance to do much. I think that's why our market has more or less, the last couple of weeks or so, hasn't done a darned thing," said Fred Ketchen, manager of equity trading at Scotia Capital.

"It's teaching everybody to have a little bit more patience than they would like to have."

Vancouver-based heavy-equipment dealer Finning International Inc. posted adjusted earnings that missed analyst estimates — coming in at 55 cents per share, two cents short of the consensus. Quarterly revenue slipped to $1.78-billion — about two per cent below a record $1.81-billion set a year earlier and nearly $100-million below the consensus estimate. Its shares were off five cents at $26.31.

Traders are also taking in earnings during the day from Sun Life Financial along with gold producers Kinross Gold and Agnico-Eagle Mines.

Thomson Reuters posted $497-million (U.S.) of adjusted earnings, or 60 cents per share in the latest quarter, compared with $445 million or 54 cents per share in the fourth quarter of 2011.

March copper backed off from early gains and was unchanged at $3.74 a pound. Still, the base metals sector was up 0.66 per cent and First Quantum Minerals gained 29 cents to $20.39 (Canadian).

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The financials sector rose 0.2 per cent while Bank of Nova Scotia advanced 24 cents to $58.82.

The energy sector was flat while Imperial Oil gave back 36 cents to $42.30.

The information technology sector was the leading decliner, down 1.7 per cent with BlackBerry down 41 cents at $14.84 while CGI Group dropped 86 cents to $27.47.

The gold sector fell 0.3 per cent as April bullion on the Nymex declined $3.70 to US$1,645.90 an ounce. Eldorado Gold shed 10 cents to $10.92 (Canadian).

The March crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange gave up early gains to move down 15 cents to $97.36 U.S. a barrel despite a much less than expected rise in U.S. inventories. The U.S. Energy Department's Energy Information Administration said supplies rose by 560,000 barrels.

A survey of analysts by Platts, the energy information arm of McGraw-Hill Cos., showed crude stocks were expected to have risen by 2.5 million barrels. However, other data released Tuesday had showed inventories declined last week.

The Canadian dollar rose 0.04 of a cent to 99.77 cents U.S.

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