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The close: Stocks fall amid mixed readings on U.S. economy

Traders work on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange March 24, 2014.

BRENDAN MCDERMID/REUTERS

The Toronto stock market closed slightly lower Thursday despite better than expected figures on gross domestic product and jobless claims in the United States.

The S&P/TSX composite index took back 5.26 points to 14,178.84, pressured by gold and tech stocks. The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.24 of a cent to 90.46 cents US.

The Commerce Department said the U.S. economy grew at a 2.6 per cent annual rate from October to December, slightly more than previously estimated, as consumer spending rose at the fastest pace in three years. Analysts had been expecting a growth rate of 2.4 per cent.

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Meanwhile, the U.S. Labor Department said jobless claims fell 10,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 311,000, the lowest since late November and a hopeful sign that hiring could pick up.

Yet despite the encouraging data, the number of Americans who signed contracts to buy homes fell for the eighth straight month in February, indicating that real estate sales will likely slow over the next few months.

Wall Street reacted to the mixed economic news with little fanfare as the Dow Jones industrials fell 4.76 points to 16,264.23, the Nasdaq shed 22.35 points to 4,151.23 and the S&P 500 index dipped 3.52 points to 1,849.04.

"It just seems like a weak market here," said Ian Nakamoto, director of research at 3MACS.

"We came down a fair bit yesterday, so you would think that if people were enthusiastic towards the market they would come back quickly... buy the dip. But that doesn't seem to be at work here."

He noted that January and February were strong months for North American markets and, perhaps, investors are now taking a break from making any big moves.

"It seems like we're in a bit of a pause or a correction," said Nakamoto.

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Some of the losses in New York were exacerbated by news from Citigroup (NYSE:C), which announced after markets closed Wednesday that the Fed has turned down its capital plan, saying it had failed its post economic crisis "stress test."

The rejection means that the bank will not be able to pay out bigger dividends to shareholders or go ahead with a planned buyback of more of its own stock.

Meanwhile, there was a slew of corporate news for investors to digest in Canada.

Lululemon Athletica Inc. (NASDAQ:LULU) said profits held steady in the fourth quarter, the busiest season for retailers. The U.S.-listed Vancouver company had to deal with several setbacks last year, including the way it handled a problem with its black Luon pants, which some customers reported were see-through when they wore them. The yoga-wear maker beat revised analyst expectations by four cents with earnings of 75 cents per share.

Resolute Forest Products Inc. (TSX:RFP) said it plans on spending US$105 million to upgrade its pulp and paper mill in Calhoun, Tenn., a decision it says will help lower costs and boost capacity. Its shares dipped 38 cents, or 1.86 per cent, to $20.

Meanwhile, shares in smartphone maker BlackBerry closed down nearly two per cent, or 19 cents, to $9.96 as it prepared to report fourth-quarter and full-year earnings on Friday. The struggling Waterloo, Ont., tech company has been making changes to its business model since last year in efforts to stay competitive against the likes of Apple and Samsung.

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In commodities, the June gold bullion contract took back $8.60 to US$1,294.80 an ounce — the first time it's closed below US$1,300 in six weeks.

The May copper contract gained three cents to US$2.99 a pound, while oil added $1.02 to US$101.28 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

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