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At the open: Stocks tumble as copper dips into bear market territory

In this Friday, April 12, 2013, photo Trader Lewis Vande Pallen, right, works on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. World stock markets mostly sank Monday April 15, 2013 as China's slower-than-expected economic growth and disappointing U.S. retail sales weighed on investor sentiment. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

Richard Drew/AP

U.S. and Canadian stock markets opened with sharp losses, as renewed weakness in commodity prices this morning and continued worries over the sluggish global economic recovery kept investors on edge after Monday's vicious sell-off.

At about 1050 a.m. (ET), the S&P/TSX composite index was down 167 points, or 1.3 per cent, at 11,952; the S&P 500 was down 23 points, or 1.4 per cent, at 1,552; and the Dow Jones industrial average was down 155 points, or 1 per cent, at 14,605.

Commodities are on a weak footing this morning. While gold was largely flat, selling intensified in crude oil as the morning wore on, and the Nymex June futures contract at last check was down 1.4 per cent at $87.74.

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But it was the economically sensitive base metals that were really suffering, and reports of weak European auto sales were fuelling some of the selloff. The Comex July copper futures contract was down 11 cents per pound, or 3.2 per cent, at $3.22. It set an intraday low of $3.1755, its lowest level in more than 17 months and dipping into bear market territory - defined as a drop of 20 per cent or more from a peak. According to Reuters, copper prices must settle above $3.1828 to avoid entering a bear market.

Copper players were discouraged by the International Monetary Fund's move on Tuesday to lower its global growth forecasts. Global growth and its continued sluggishness continues to undermine confidence of market players, who have been debating why this year's powerful rally in U.S. stocks has become so detached from a much more subdued macroeconomic picture. HudBay Minerals and First Quantum Minerals - both copper producers - were down about 3 per cent.

Apple Inc. was also hurting today, as a selloff in the tech sector intensified. Its shares were off nearly 5 per cent. A supplier to Apple, Cirrus Logic Inc., was down 13 per cent after it provided a weak sales forecast - igniting speculation that it could be linked to sluggish demand for Apple products.

The U.S. first-quarter earnings season is well underway, and so far the results overall have been mixed - but pretty close to expectations. Of the 42 stocks in the S&P 500 that have reported earnings to date, 66.7 per cent had profit coming in above expectations, according to Thomson Reuters data. That's been in line with the recent trend; over the past four quarters, 67 per cent of firms have been beating estimates.

Bank of America Corp. was the big headliner this morning, and it missed profit expectations by a couple of cents per share. Its shares fell 2.2 per cent at the open.

In Europe, stocks are lower, undermined by a weaker-than-expected jobs report in the U.K. The main jobless rate there rose to 7.9 per cent in the three months ending in February, the highest rate since the three months to August 2012. London's FTSE 100 was down 0.4 per cent, Germany's Dax index down 1.6 per cent and France's CAC 40 was down 1.3 per cent.

There's not much in the way of economic data in the U.S. today, but the release of the U.S. Beige Book will draw scrutiny this afternoon, and a number of Federal Reserve members - not including Chairman Ben Bernanke - will be giving speeches later today.

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The Bank of Canada today held its trend-setting interest rate unchanged, and signalled the next move would be up at some point. It cut its gross domestic product forecast for this year to 1.5 per cent from 2 per cent. The Canadian dollar edged down after the report was last last trading down seven-tenths of a cent, at 97.25 per U.S.

In other stocks this morning:

Yahoo Inc. shares fell 2 per cent at the open after the Internet company reported earnings late Tuesday that easily beat Street views - but display revenues and guidance disappointed investors.

Intel Corp. shares are down nearly 1 per cent after the chip maker warned of a second-quarter revenue decline of as much as 8 per cent due to slowing personal computer demand.

Mattel Inc. shares are up 5 per cent after reporting quarterly earnings per share of 11 cents, beating expectations of 9 cents.

Thompson Creek Metals Co. shares were up 0.7 per cent on the TSX after Rio Tinto Plc's Bingham Canyon mine in Utah suffered a supply disruption from a landslide. The disruption could reduce global molybdenum supply next year by more than 2 per cent.

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About the Author
Investment Editor

Darcy Keith is The Globe and Mail's Investment Editor. He has been a business journalist since 1992 and joined the Report on Business in 2010 from Yahoo! Canada, where he was the senior editor of finance. More

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