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At the open: TSX starts flat as geopolitical tension rises

A man walks past an old Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX) sign in Toronto, June 23, 2014.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

Canada's main stock index barely slipped in early trade on Friday but was heading towards a 1.9 percent gain on the week, with banks and gold miners pushing higher as geopolitical tensions boosted demand for bullion.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index was last down 3.65 points, or 0.02 per cent, at 15,451.27. It closed at its highest level since early June on Thursday.

U.S. stocks opened lower on Friday as investors turned risk averse after North Korea and the United States entered into a fresh war of words.

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The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 14.94 points, or 0.07 per cent, to 22,344.29. The S&P 500 lost 3.31 points, or 0.13 per cent, to 2,497.29. The Nasdaq Composite dropped 20.02 points, or 0.31 per cent, to 6,402.67.

North Korea said it might test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific Ocean in response to U.S. President Donald Trump's threat to destroy the reclusive country in his United Nations address.

Mr. Trump also put more economic pressure on North Korea by ordering additional sanctions, including on its shipping and trade networks but stopped short of going after Pyongyang's biggest trading partner, China.

"Big noise out of North Korea will keep today's trading defensive as the biggest threat to the markets make the headlines," said Peter Cardillo, chief market economist at First Standard Financial in New York.

"While we don't expect a serious selloff, the geopolitical rhetoric could heat up."

The latest spike in tensions prompted demand for gold, which rebounded from a four-week low on Friday.

Wall Street slipped on Thursday as investors braced for a third interest rate hike this year and shares of Apple fell on worries about demand for its latest smartphone.

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Investors increased bets the Federal Reserve would raise rates again this year after its economic projections showed 11 of 16 officials see room for a 0.25 percentage points increase in the federal funds rate from the current level.

Market will look for more insights into Fed's policy from speeches by Dallas Fed president Robert Kaplan and his Kansas City counterpart Esther George later in the day.

Oil prices were steady as investors waited to see whether major producers meeting in Vienna would back an extension to output cuts beyond March next year.

Apple was down about 0.9 per cent in early trading as the launch of iPhone 8 kicked off in a less lively mood in Asia versus previous debuts.

Jitters over a fresh exchange of barbs between North Korea and the United States eased in Europe on Friday as strong economic data supported European stocks, and investors' focus turned to a planned speech by Britain's prime minister on Brexit.Europe's main stock index hit a two-month high, recovering from early losses following a sell-off in Asian stocks and a rush to safe-haven currencies after North Korea said it might test a hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean.

Risk aversion drove investors into the Swiss franc and Japanese yen, with the Swiss currency up 0.2 percent to 0.9684 francs per dollar, while the yen firmed 0.4 per cent. Safe-haven gold rose 0.3 per cent.

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Among stocks only the mining sector still showed signs of strain as metals prices were battered by the heightened geopolitical risk in Asia.

"North Korea poses such a binary risk that it's very hard to price, and at the moment investors just have to look through it," said Mike Bell, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management.

European investors were shifting focus from North Korea to a keenly anticipated speech by British Prime Minister Theresa May in Florence, in which she was expected to update her vision of the Brexit negotiations.

Brexit bellwether sterling hovered at a two-month high against the euro, having firmed against both euro and dollar this week as traders anticipated May would strike a softer tone on negotiations for Britain's exit from the EU.

"Sterling's rally in the past couple of weeks is partly in reaction to the Bank of England but also reflects an assumption that it's more likely we do get a transitional deal," said Mike Bell, global market strategist at JP Morgan Asset Management.

"If that's what May is laying out today that would be supportive, but I think you have seen a lot of that move priced in already," he added.

Options markets were pricing a large GBP/USD reaction to the speech, as investors bought protection against sharp fluctuations.

Euro zone businesses ended the third quarter with much stronger growth than predicted, adding to evidence of the region's newfound dynamism which has spurred strong inflows into European equities this year.

"We think today's strong PMI data, with details showing solid employment gains, tighter capacity and rising pricing pressures in manufacturing chains will give the ECB greater confidence that moving towards monetary policy normalisation is now justified," said UBS economists.

The euro gained 0.3 per cent to $1.1973, on track to end the week higher.

The dollar index against a basket of six major currencies fell 0.4 per cent at 91.93.

Crude oil prices dipped 0.3 per cent as ministers from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Russia and other producers geared up to meet later on Friday to discuss a possible extension of supply cuts.

Brent crude slipped 0.1 per cent from a five-month high, last at $56.38 a barrel.

The 10-year Treasury yield declined about 3 basis points to 2.2534 percent as risk aversion favoured government bonds. It had risen for nine consecutive sessions prior, brushing a six-week high of 2.289 per cent.

German bond yields hardly budged ahead of elections on Sunday which market participants said would yield no big surprises with Chancellor Merkel likely to win a fourth term.

MSCI's world equity index, which tracks shares in 46 countries, remained on track to eke out a weekly gain, holding near its latest record high hit on Wednesday as investors' enthusiasm for stocks showed few signs of waning.

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