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At midday: TSX falls further on slumping miners

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange shortly after the market opening December 16, 2013.

LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS

The Toronto stock market was lower Friday as mining stocks lost ground amid disappointing data from China.

The S&P/TSX composite index declined 33.64 points to 13,560.55 as traders also looked ahead to the start of the U.S. fourth quarter earnings season next week.

The Canadian dollar rose 0.45 of a cent to 94.14 cents (U.S.) amid a generally weaker U.S. currency.

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New York indexes were mainly positive with the Dow Jones industrials ahead 53.94 points to 16,495.29, the Nasdaq dipped 3.04 points to 4,140.03 while the S&P 500 index edged up 3.44 points to 1,835.42.

Base metal prices backed off as China's official nonmanufacturing Purchasing Managers' Index fell to a four-month low, coming in at 54.6 in December from 56 in November. A reading above 50 indicates expansion.

The nonmanufacturing PMI covers services including retail, aviation and software as well as the real estate and construction sectors.

China is the world's second-biggest economy and its double digit growth of the past and huge appetite for commodities had been a huge plus for a resource-based market like the TSX.

But traders have had to get used to a more modest growth rate of between seven and 7.5 per cent as the Chinese government keeps the lid on growth in order to keep inflation under control.

"The days of 10 per cent growth are gone and they're gone mainly because the government doesn't want it anyways," observed Andrew Pyle, investment advisor at ScotiaMcLeod in Peterborough, Ont.

He added that there are concerns that growth could even go below seven per cent.

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"China GDP growth going down below seven per cent and would have a dramatic impact on resources in general, so it wouldn't be just be base metals, it would be crude and everything else."

North American markets got off to a lacklustre start to 2014 trading Thursday amid a slate of data showing manufacturing sectors in China, the U.S. and Canada still expanding but at a slower pace.

The base metals sector was down almost one per cent as March copper on the New York Mercantile Exchange lost three cents to $3.35 (U.S.) a pound. Thompson Creek Metals shed six cents to C$2.47 while Teck Resources lost 43 cents to $27.15.

The energy sector lost 0.6 per cent as February crude on the Nymex slipped 67 cents to $94.77 (U.S.) a barrel on top of a $3 slide Thursday. Cenovus Energy shed 23 cents to C$29.98.

The gold sector was the strongest group, up 0.5 per cent as February bullion gained $10.20 to $1,235.40 (U.S.) an ounce. Kinross Gold improved seven cents to C$4.87.

Meanwhile, traders are increasingly looking to market fundamentals after the U.S. Federal Reserve ended months of speculation last month and announced it would be cutting back on a key area of stimulus, its $85-billion (U.S.) of monthly bond purchases. Those purchases are credited with supporting a strong rally on stock markets during 2013, including a 30 per cent surge in the S&P 500 to a record high.

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Now, investors will focus on corporate earnings to see if those advances were justified.

The coming week will see earnings reports from heavyweights including resource company Alcoa and financial giants American Express, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo.

Bloomberg News says that earnings are expected to rise just 3.7 per cent in the fourth quarter, excluding financial companies.

Investors also looked ahead to comments later Friday by U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for indications about the possible pace of further reductions in monetary stimulus.

Automakers also released December sales figures for the U.S.

Chrysler said its U.S. sales rose six per cent in the final month of the year and posted a nine per cent rise for 2013.

Ford's sales for December in the U.S. rose 1.8 per cent, lower than the 5.9 per cent gain that was expected. Ford's U.S. sales jumped 11 per cent in 2013 to nearly 2.5 million – a six-year high and its shares were a penny higher to $15.45 (U.S.).

General Motors' December U.S. sales fell more than six per cent, but the company still finished the year with a 7.3 per cent increase. GM says it sold more than 230,000 cars and last month, down from nearly 246,000 a year ago and its shares fell 2.56 per cent to $39.90.

Industry analysts expect a total U.S. sales gain of about four per cent in December and an annual gain of around eight per cent.

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