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Toronto stock market, loonie lose ground amid lower oil and gold prices

Last Updated Mar 24, 2016 at 5:40 pm EST

TORONTO – Weakness in commodities and Canadian financial stocks helped the Toronto stock market slide into the red Thursday, capping a holiday-shortened trading week.

The S&P/TSX composite index lost 21.37 points at 13,358.11, its third consecutive decline.

The heavily weighted financials sector was the second largest loser on the Toronto market, falling 0.98 per cent. Shares in National Bank (TSX:NA) dipped $1.24 or 3.46 per cent to $41.56, and Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) gave back 85 cents or 1.34 per cent to $62.42.

“Banks have been doing quite well in recent weeks,” said Andrew Pyle, a senior wealth adviser and portfolio manager at ScotiaMcLeod in Peterborough, Ont.

Despite the strength, he noted that a factor adding to the weakness was low oil prices, which raise concerns about the credit quality of oil firms with whom the banks have outstanding loans.

The May contract for benchmark North American crude oil slipped 33 cents to US$39.46 a barrel, falling for a third day in a row.

Pyle believes the price of oil, now hovering around US$40 a barrel, is fair, adding that predictions from earlier this year about it bottoming out at $20 may now be unlikely.

“The demand of crude is still strong. We’re close to entering a seasonally strong part of the year for crude demand … because of summer travel season,” he said.

Houston-based oilfield services company Baker Hughes Inc. reported that the number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the U.S. dropped by 12 this week to 464, a record low amid continuing price woes in the energy industry.

A year ago, 1,048 rigs were active. At its peak in 1981, the U.S. rig count reached 4,530. It previously bottomed out at 488 in 1999.

The commodity-sensitive loonie was down 0.15 of a U.S. cent at 75.53 cents U.S, as April gold lost $2.40 to US$1,221.60 a troy ounce, while May natural gas advanced a penny to US$1.88 per mmBtu. May copper was unchanged at US$2.23 a pound.

Trade was relatively muted in New York amid disappointing manufacturing data.

The Commerce Department reported that orders to U.S. factories for long-lasting manufactured goods fell 2.8 per cent in February, with a key category that tracks business investment dropping by the largest amount since December.

The Dow Jones industrials gained 13.14 points at 17,515.73, while the broader S&P 500 was barely changed, down 0.77 of a point at 2,035.94. The Nasdaq added 4.65 points to 4,773.51.

Bay Street and Wall Street will be closed Friday ahead of the Easter long weekend.

— With files from The Associated Press

Follow @LindaNguyenTO on Twitter.