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At the open: TSX eases as Chinese growth meets expectations

The Toronto stock market was lower Thursday following three days of advances as economic growth data from China met expectations and traders looked to a two-day summit of European Union leaders.

The S&P/TSX composite index was down 16.35 points to 12,444.9 after netting more than 250 points since Friday and the TSX Venture Exchange added 1.85 points to 1,305.85.

The Canadian dollar was off 0.25 of a cent to 102.00 cents (U.S.) after the commodity-sensitive currency charged ahead almost a full U.S. cent on Wednesday amid rising copper prices.

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New York markets were weak as traders took in disappointing employment data and earnings from investment bank Morgan Stanley and mobile phone maker Nokia.

The Dow Jones industrials dipped 16.58 points to 13,540.42 as applications for U.S. unemployment benefits jumped 46,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 388,000, the highest in four months. The increase represents a rebound from the previous week's sharp drop. Both swings were largely due to technical factors.

The four-week average of applications, a less volatile measure, fell slightly to 365,500, a level consistent with modest hiring.

The Nasdaq composite index was 9.85 points lower to 3,094.27 while the S&P 500 index was off 3.48 points to 1,457.43.

Commodity prices failed to find lift from data showing that China's economy grew 7.4 per cent from the year before in the three months ended in September, which was in line with economists' expectations. That was slower than the second quarter's 7.6 per cent growth but economists also pointed to quarter-on-quarter growth of 2.2 per cent, the biggest such gain in a year.

While indicating that the world's second-biggest economy is recovering, analysts said the showing also indicated that there is no need for the government to inject further stimulus.

The gold sector lost 0.85 per cent as December gold bullion pulled back $9.70 to $1,743.30 (U.S.) an ounce. Barrick Gold Corp. faded 39 cents to $38.74 (Canadian).

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December copper was two cents lower at $3.73 (U.S.) a pound following a five-cent run-up Wednesday and the base metals sector lost 0.64 per cent. First Quantum Minerals declined 29 cents to $22.46.

The November crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange declined $1.21 to $90.91 (U.S.) a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources shed 25 cents to $30.83.

Meanwhile, an EU summit starting later Thursday will see leaders debate tightening financial integration and creating a banking union as well as dealing with the financial needs of Greece and Spain.

Ahead of the meeting, German Chancellor Angela Merkel endorsed a proposal for a top European Union official to be given the power to veto member governments' budgets in a bid to keep European countries from overspending in the future.

But with long-term proposals for overhauling the EU likely to play a leading role at this week's summit, firm decisions are not expected on more immediate matters.

The euro zone financial crisis has focused on Spain in recent months. There are growing expectations the country, suffering from the after-effects of a building boom that went bust, will soon make a request for international help to deal with its finances.

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Amid that expectation, Spain on Thursday raised $4.6-billion (Canadian) at a sharply lower cost. The Treasury sold $1.51-billion in 10-year bonds at an average interest rate of 5.46 per cent, down from 5.66 per cent in the last such auction Sept. 20.

Spain says it will soon decide whether to look to tap a European Central Bank bond-buying program largely designed to keep a lid on its borrowing costs.

On the earnings front, Morgan Stanley shares were down 22 cents to $18.27 (U.S.) after the bank reported higher net income and revenue for the third quarter. Excluding an accounting charge, the bank earned $535-million for common shareholders in July to September, up from $39-million a year ago. Revenue rose 18 per cent to $7.5-billion after excluding the charge, which beat the $6.4-billion that analysts had been expecting.

Nokia Corp. said Thursday that its third-quarter net loss widened to $969-million (Canadian) as revenue plunged 19 per cent and sales of its flagship Windows Phone fell under three million units. Investors had been expecting an even bigger drop in sales but nonetheless sent shares in the company down 5.44 per cent to $2.78 (U.S.).

In other corporate developments, Telus Corp. will have a single class of shares after shareholders voted strongly in favour of the plan on Wednesday, defeating a U.S. hedge fund's attempt to get a premium for holders of the company's voting shares. Telus voting shares gained 21 cents to $63.10 while its non-voting shares gained 57 cents to $62.85.

Britain's financial regulator has fined a subsidiary of Sun Life Financial Inc. £600,000 for what it called "failings" in the governance of its with-profits business. The Financial Services Authority ruling concerns the operation of Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada (U.K.) Ltd. The FSA says the design and operation of the company's governance arrangements were unclear and inadequate, resulting in a high risk that the interests of policyholders would not be properly protected. Sun Life shares dipped one cent to $24.16.

European bourses were mixed as London's FTSE 100 index slipped 0.15 per cent and Frankfurt's DAX gained 0.23 per cent while the Paris CAC 40 was down 0.52 per cent.

Earlier in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index rose two per cent and Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.5 per cent.

In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index gained 1.2 per cent to the highest close in more than a month. The Shenzhen Composite Index gained 1.7 per cent.

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