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Loonie ends lower amid nervous markets ahead of Crimea referendum

Canadian dollars.

Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

The Canadian dollar closed lower Friday with markets cautious ahead of a weekend referendum in Ukraine's Crimea region.

The loonie fell 0.34 of a cent to end at 90.13 cents (U.S.").

Investors looked to a referendum being held in Crimea on Sunday where residents will vote on whether they want to join Russia. The vote is being held two weeks after Russian troops initially moved into Crimea, where it has a key naval base and many of the people are Russian-speaking.

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The West has urged Moscow to pull back its troops in Crimea and is also preparing to impose harsh sanctions on Russia if that country moves to annex the territory. Russia has warned again that it reserves the right to intervene in defence of ethnic Russians it says are under threat in eastern Ukraine.

Commodity prices were higher Friday after backing off this week amid concerns about China's growth prospects.

Also, China's Premier, Li Keqiang, said his country will keep this year's economic expansion strong enough to create new jobs but will emphasize market-opening reform and the environment over hitting its official growth target of 7.5 per cent.

Copper, viewed as an economic proxy, has dropped almost 10 per cent over the past five sessions. Copper is also used for financing in China and last week's first-ever corporate default raised worries that other failed companies could dump large quantities of the metal on markets, further depressing prices.

April crude in New York was up 69 cents to $98.89 a barrel.

Nervous traders sent gold higher for a fifth session with April bullion up $6.60 to $1,379 an ounce after closing Thursday at its highest close since September while May copper rose 3 cents to $2.95 an ounce.

Markets also looked ahead to next week's interest rate meeting by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the first to be led by new central bank chair Janet Yellen.

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Traders will be looking for any change in a gauge the Fed is using for interest rate guidance – the jobless rate. Generally, markets aren't expecting a rate hike from the Fed until the middle of next year at the earliest.

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