By Malcolm Morrison, The Canadian Press
TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed sharply lower Wednesday as investors sold off across most sectors and commodities tumbled as indications of slowing growth in the Chinese and American economies raised another round of concerns.
The S&P/TSX composite index fell 135.21 points to 12,321.29, led by steep declines in mining and energy stocks, amid a heavy slate of earnings reports.
The Canadian dollar closed down 0.06 of a cent to 99.2 cents US.
There was at least one bit of good news: the U.S. Federal Reserve announced that it will carry on with its economic stimulus measures for some time to come.
That means interest rates stay near zero until the jobless rate hits 6.5 per cent from its current level of 7.6 per cent.
And other stimulus in the form of spending US$85 billion a month on bonds to keep long-term rates low and encourage lending will stay place until the labour market markedly improves substantially.
"This is a steady-as-she-goes Fed, one that won't be much moved by small swings in the data until we get a long enough string of positive news to alter course," said Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at CIBC World Markets.
A big improvement in the U.S. labour market could be a ways off as payroll firm ADP released employment data that indicated another month of weak job creation. ADP said private sector job creation came in at 119,000 in April, much lower than expectations of 150,000.
The report came out two days before the release of the U.S. government's employment report for last month. Job growth in March widely missed expectations, coming in at 88,000.
Indexes were further depressed by other data showing declining expansion in the American manufacturing sector. The Institute for Supply Management’s index stood at 50.7 in April, down from 51.3 in March.
And construction spending fell 1.7 per cent in March after rising 1.5 per cent in February.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 138.85 points to 14,700.95, while the Nasdaq composite index fell 29.66 points to 3,299.13 and the S&P 500 index gave back 14.87 points to 1,582.7.
Commodity prices also moved lower after data showed a slowdown in China’s manufacturing growth.
The China Federation of Logistics and Purchasing, an industry group, released data Wednesday showing that manufacturing grew at a slower pace in April and that export orders had been declining steadily. The federation’s purchasing managers' index fell to 50.6 in April from 50.9 in March.
"The China number really put a damper on our market with respect to the commodities market again," said Allan Small, senior adviser at DWM Securities.
"Commodities, materials are not the place to be."
The metals and mining sector dropped 1.45 per cent as July copper fell 11 cents to US$3.08 a pound. China is the world's biggest consumer of the metal. First Quantum Minerals fell 44 cents to C$17.15.
The gold sector was also down about 2.35 per cent as June bullion in New York dropped $25.90 to US$1,446.20 an ounce. Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) faded 75 cents to C$29.07.
The energy sector fell two per cent as the weak manufacturing data sent June crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropping $2.43 to US$91.03 a barrel.
Prices were further depressed after the U.S. Energy Information Administration reported a jump in last week's crude supplies that was more than four times higher than expected, rising last week by 6.7 million barrels.
Talisman Energy (TSX:TLM.TO - News) posted a quarterly net loss of $213 million, or 21 cents per share compared with a profit of $291 million, or 28 cents per share, a year earlier. Its shares gave back 58 cents to $11.50.
Elsewhere on the earnings front, Loblaw Companies Ltd. (TSX:L) jumped $2, or 4.68 per cent, to $44.75 as it reported a 40 per cent increase in first-quarter net income to $171 million or 61 cents per share while revenue rose to $7.2 billion from $6.94 billion. The grocer also increased its quarterly dividend to 24 cents per common share from 22 cents and said it plans to compete the initial public offering of its real estate investment trust in early to mid-July.
"That's a key driver," added Small.
"The real estate alone that their buildings sit on is worth a certain amount in terms of earnings per share."
In other corporate developments, Tim Hortons Inc. (TSX:THI.TO - News) shares gained $2.19 or four per cent to $56.77 after a report that U.S. investment firm Highfields Capital is pushing for changes at the chain including a big buy back of stock and a spin off of its real estate holdings.