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North American markets fall on Delta variant fears

·2 min read

TORONTO — North American stock markets trended broadly lower Wednesday and oil prices declined for a fifth straight day amid investor fears about the unrelenting spread of the COVID-19 Delta variant.

“Equity markets have stumbled this week, with traders assessing the global economic landscape and the trajectory of the pandemic,” said Candice Bangsund, portfolio manager for Fiera Capital.

Bangsund added markets were also on the defensive given newly released minutes from the U.S. Federal Reserve gathering in July, which indicate the central bank could make a formal decision on scaling back its bond buying program by year-end. This expected tapering of pandemic emergency relief programs has some investors “rattled,” she said.

The S&P/TSX composite index saw positive performance in the financials sector Wednesday, but still closed the day down 61.48 points at 20,302.11.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 382.59 points at 34,960.69. The S&P 500 index was down 47.81 points at 4,400.27, while the Nasdaq composite was down 130.27 points at 14,525.91.

The Canadian dollar traded for 79.18 cents US compared with 79.22 cents US on Tuesday.

Despite the improving economic situation and higher-than-expected inflation in both the U.S. and Canada, negative headlines about the Delta variant continue to spark concern for investors, Bangsund said. On Tuesday, for example, New Zealand entered a three-day nationwide lockdown in response to the discovery of a single case, and Australia reported it expects cases to rise significantly in the coming weeks.

Also this week, Japan announced it will extend its COVID-19 state of emergency until Sept. 12 rather than lifting it as planned.

Concerns around Delta weighed on the energy sector Wednesday as oil prices declined for a fifth straight day, the longest slide in five months. The October crude oil contract was down $1.13 at US$65.21 per barrel at end of day Wednesday.

The September natural gas contract was up one-and-a-half cents at US$3.85 per mmBTU.

The December gold contract was down US$3.40 at US$1,784.40 an ounce and the September copper contract was down almost nine cents at US$4.12 a pound.

Bangsund said gold fell Wednesday as interest rates rose in response to the release of the Federal Reserve minutes indicating a formal taper decision may be made before year-end. Rising interest rates diminish the appeal of the non-interest bearing metal, she said.

Gold mining companies like Barrick Gold Corp., Kinross Gold Company, and Agnico Eagle Mines Ltd. were all down in Wednesday's trading.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 18, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X, TSX:ABX, TSX:K, TSX:AEM)

Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

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