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At the open: TSX lower amid falling gold stocks

The Toronto stock market was slightly lower Monday amid falling commodity prices while traders look to a heavy week of earnings news from corporate Canada.

The S&P/TSX composite index dropped 17.93 points to 12,783.3, led by falling gold stocks as bullion prices dropped almost US$18, while the TSX Venture Exchange slipped 3.55 points to 1,202.26.

The Canadian dollar continued to lose ground in the wake of disappointing employment and housing starts data at the end of last week. The loonie shed 0.44 of a cent to 99.29 cents US.

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U.S. indexes backed off as the Dow Jones Industrials declined 35.97 points to 13,957, the Nasdaq composite index was 7.21 points lower at 3,186.66 while the S&P 500 index was down 2.19 points at 1,515.74.

Research in Motion Ltd. also weighed on the TSX, falling 72 cents or 4.36 per cent to $15.79 as Forbes reported that Home Depot has decided to ditch the approximately 10,000 BlackBerry smartphones used by its executives. The home improvement chain is reportedly supplying its corporate staff with Apple's iPhone.

The TSX gold sector lost 1.5 per cent as April bullion faded $17.90 to US$1,649 an ounce. Barrick Gold Corp. shed 47 cents to C$32.37.

The base metals sector was down 0.5 per cent while March copper was four cents lower at US$3.72 a pound. Taseko Mines dipped five cents to C$3.28.

Cameco Corp.reported an 83 per cent drop in net earnings in its fourth quarter to $45 million, or 11 cents per diluted share, largely due to a $168-million writedown on its Kintyre project in Australia and lower profits from its uranium business. Adjusted earnings came in at 60 cents, beating forecasts of 41 cents but its shares fell 84 cents to $20.87.

The energy sector fell 0.4 per cent as the March crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange declined 44 cents to $95.28 (U.S.) a barrel. Imperial Oil lost 40 cents to C$42.65.

The industrials sector was the leading advancer as Canadian Pacific Railway climbed $1.14 to $114.90.

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The fourth-quarter earnings season is winding down in the U.S. but Canadian investors will be taking in a slew of earnings reports this week.

Pipeline company TransCanada posts earnings Tuesday. Over the rest of the week traders will take in reports from resource giants including Talisman Energy, Cenovus Energy, gas giant EnCana Corp. and Barrick Gold.

Outside of the resource sector, Sun Life Financial, and telecoms Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications hand in results.

In other corporate news, Brookfield Asset Management Inc. says it will pay $414-million to buy a portfolio of 19 apartment communities in three states in the U.S. Southeast. Most of the 4,892 units included in the deal are concentrated in Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C., but some are also in the neighbouring states of South Carolina and Virginia. Brookfield shares added 13 cents to $38.95.

Onex Corp and its affiliates have agreed to sell their 50 per cent interest in RSI Home Products for approximately US$323 million. The Onex Group invested $318 million in October 2008 to acquire RSI preferred equity. The Toronto-based group says it will have received US$471 million including prior distributions when the sale closes. Onex shares were unchanged at $44.40.

Alacer Gold Corp. will pay a special dividend to distribute $70 million in cash from the sale of its 49 per cent interest in the Frog's Lake mine in Australia. The sale is part of a strategic review conducted by the Toronto-listed company, which says it will now focus exploration activity on targets with the greatest potential to return "significant and immediate value." Its shares ran ahead 16 cents to $4.56.

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The TSX finished last week little changed, up a slight 0.25 per cent to preserve a solid gain during January that saw the market rise by two per cent. New York indexes have also largely moved sideways since racking up a strong advance last month when the Dow Industrials ran ahead about six per cent.

U.S. stocks opened slightly lower as the market took a breather with the S&P 500 index near a record high, while low volume could make trading volatile and exaggerate moves.

Upbeat U.S. and Chinese data last week helped extend the weekly winning streak of the S&P 500 to six weeks. The benchmark is up 6.4 per cent so far this year after a steep rally in January that has dwindled as earnings season winds down.

No economic data or major U.S. earnings reports are scheduled, but U.S. Federal Reserve Vice Chair Janet Yellen is due to speak about the economic recovery at 1 p.m. ET.

With files from Reuters

Inside the Market editor Darcy Keith is away and will return next week.

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