TORONTO - The Toronto stock market inched lower Tuesday as commodities prices held steady and mixed economic data on both sides of the border appeared to leave traders feeling reserved.
The S&P/TSX composite index was down a mere 4.67 points to 11,541.02. The Canadian dollar was off 0.18 of a cent to 94.22 cents U.S., while the TSX Venture Exchange fell 3.03 to 1,422.05.
"It's almost like we're coasting into year-end with no clear direction, really," said Chris King, portfolio manager at Morgan, Meighen and Associates.
TSX energy stocks rose 0.8 per cent as commodity prices ticked higher a day after a US$29-billion acquisition by Exxon Mobil gave lift to the sector.
The January crude delivery contract was up $1.18 to close at US$70.69 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
Gold stocks slipped 1.8 per cent as the February bullion contract on the Nymex fell 80 cents to US$1,123 an ounce.
On the economic front, Statistics Canada reported that sales of new motor vehicles increased 3.5 per cent in October over September.
The Canadian Real Estate Association said new home sales were up 73 per cent across the country in November, compared with the same month last year, but still slightly below the levels of November 2007.
South of the border, wholesale inflation rose more than expected in November, led by surge in energy costs. The U.S. Labour Department said wholesale prices jumped 1.8 per cent last month, more than double the 0.8 per cent gain analysts had expected.
The Dow Jones industrials fell 49.05 points to 10,452. The Nasdaq composite index fell 11.05 points to 2,201.05, while the S&P 500 index backed off 6.18 points to 1,107.93.
The TSX technology sector rose 1.6 per cent as CGI Group Inc. (TSX:GIB.A) shares rose 4.6 per cent to $14.22. The company says it has inked $1.1 billion worth of deals with North American financial institutions in the fourth quarter.
The TSX has been easing up on its gains in recent weeks, and sits about 330 points below the 11,878 high for the year set in early November, but remains more than 50 per cent higher than the lows set in March.
The volatility has left some investors suggesting that there's little foreseeable reason for another major boost of confidence on the markets, which could mean that the gains are likely to be pulled back even further.
"I do think these markets are about sentiment and momentum," said Adrian Mastracci, president of Vancouver-based KCM Wealth Management Inc.
"Somewhere along the line there is a potential for a correction. Most investors should look at expectations that they have and maybe adjust them to a lower return environment."
Looking ahead, Telus Corp. (TSX:T) forecast revenues will increase up to five per cent in 2010. Its shares were down five cents to $32.05.
In earnings, commercial printer and media company Transcontinental (TSX:TCL.A) reported a $43.1 million profit in the fourth quarter, reversing last year's $94.3-million loss even as revenues dropped nine per cent. The company's shares were ahead 52 cents to $13.02.
MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (TSX:MDA) shares were ahead 12 cents to $41.29 after the company said it was awarded US$254-million contract to provide communication satellite system to National Space Agency of Ukraine.
Stella-Jones Inc. (TSX:SJ), a maker of railway ties and utility poles, said it plans to buy privately held U.S.-based Tangent Rail Corp. for an undisclosed amount as it seeks to expand its business in the United States. It shares were up 32 cents to $22.70.
In the U.S., Best Buy said its fourth-quarter profit margins will face pressure as shoppers look for less expensive items. The comment came as the electronics retailer said its third-quarter earnings more than quadrupled.