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At midday: TSX slips into the red amid rising Ukraine tensions

A Ukrainian soldier, left, watches from inside a military base as unidentified troops, right, block the entrance in the village of Privolnoye in the Crimea region of Ukraine.

Sergey Ponomarev/New York Times

After a brief rise Monday morning, the Toronto stock market dipped along with markets around the world as traders generally avoided risk in the wake of Russia's invasion into Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

The S&P/TSX composite index fell 30.81 points to 14,178.78, despite rising energy and gold stocks.

The Canadian dollar, which was faring better than some other currencies, slipped 0.25 of a cent against the greenback to 90.19 cents (U.S.).

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Investors generally sought the safe-haven status of U.S. dollars and Treasuries after Russia took effective control of the Crimean peninsula, calling it a necessary protection for the country's citizens living there. There are worries that Russia might seek to expand its control by seizing other parts of eastern Ukraine.

U.S. indexes tumbled as traders weighed the potential economic consequences of Russia's move.

"It's a surprise, I don't think we've had this level of political events impact the markets in some time," said Patrick Blais, managing director and portfolio manager at Manulife Asset Management.

The Dow Jones industrials plunged 187.57 points to 16,134.14, the Nasdaq gave back 46.4 points to 4,261.72 and the S&P 500 index fell 17.97 points to 1,841.48.

On the economic front, U.S. consumer spending rose 0.4 per cent in January following a tiny 0.1 per cent gain in December. Income grew 0.3 per cent in January following no increase at all in December.

And the Institute for Supply Management's manufacturing index showed greater expansion in the sector, rising to 53.2 during February from 51.3 in January.

The gold sector led TSX advancers, up 3.1 per cent while traders seeking safety pushed April bullion up $31.20 to $1,352.80 (U.S.) an ounce.

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"Gold is a sentiment-driven market and the (gold) equities as well," observed Blais.

"And with news of this sort, gold names could have a pretty good run. The backdrop is definitely supportive, with the uncertainty I think they'll keep moving higher."

The energy sector rose 0.4 per cent while oil prices spiked well over $2 as Russia's military advance into Ukraine raised fears of economic sanctions against a country that is one of the world's major energy producers. The April contract in New York jumped $2.60 to $105.19 a barrel.

The base metals component led decliners, down 1.45 per cent as May copper lost two cents to $3.17 a pound. Prices for the metal were also pressured by Chinese data as both the official and HSBC versions of the country's monthly manufacturing survey showed the sector was weaker last month than in January.

On the earnings front, Magna International's quarterly net earnings rose 31 per cent from a year ago to $458-million or $2.03 a share as sales jumped 14 per cent to $9.17-billion. The company also raised its quarterly dividend by 19 per cent to 38 cents per share and Magna shares gained $2.66 to $101.23.

Pengrowth Energy Corp. had an $91.1-million net loss or 17 cents per share during the fourth quarter. Analysts had expected a net loss of three cents a share and its stock slipped 23 cents to $7.23.

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