Economy & Markets

New York markets close mixed

By David Hodges |
Source: The Canadian Press

Gold miners and large financial services companies dragged down Canada's main stock index Friday as trading on Wall Street remained modest.

On Bay Street, the S&P/TSX composite index dropped 71.92 points to 15,490.49 with the materials sector being the biggest decliner on the commodity-heavy index.

In New York, markets were mixed. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 19.93 points to 20,914.62, while the S&P 500 index inched down 3.13 points to 2,378.25. The Nasdaq composite index was barely changed from Thursday's close, up 0.24 of a point to 5,901.00.

Portfolio manager Kash Pashootan said the markets are in a wait-and-see mode after a predictable week in which the U.S. Federal Reserve hiked its key short-term rate by a quarter-point to a range of 0.75% to 1% on Wednesday.

The widely expected move was prompted by solid signs of a strengthening U.S. economy, as gauges on job growth, retail sales, consumer prices and housing builds have all come in higher than analysts had been expecting.

"If there's one thing the market does not like, it's surprise, and we haven't had many surprises yet," said Pashootan from First Avenue Advisory, a Raymond James company. "We have clear direction, all else being equal, of where the Fed is going with rates."

Range-bound crude prices have also become surprisingly stable, he said. "We don't have oil prices in free fall compared to what we've seen in the last couple of years."

The more heavily traded May crude contract up seven cents at $49.31 per barrel.

Investors are turning their attention to the next potential flashpoints for markets, including whether U.S. President Donald Trump will be able to deliver on promises to cut taxes and boost infrastructure spending.

"If he waits to unveil everything at once, six or eight months from now, you may see markets run out of patience and demonstrate volatility beforehand," Pashootan said.

"But if he's able to give a small nugget here and there, it will provide hydration for the markets to continue to drive forward and he will buy time."

In the meantime, investors will continue to grapple with shifting sentiments of optimism and concern over a market that has steadily increased with very little existence of volatility, he said.

"Equity markets are not behaving like equity markets," Pashootan said. "They have very little overall volatility compared to what one should expect and the appreciation we've seen has been well above what we should expect.

"The significant risk that comes out of that is investors start to believe that they're more comfortable with risk then they really are, because the only side of risk we've seen for the last several months has been the reward. In fact, it's been rewards on steroids."

In currencies, the Canadian dollar sat just below the 75-cent mark, up 0.06 of a cent at US74.98¢.

On the commodity markets, the May crude oil contract added US7¢ at $49.31 per barrel and the April natural gas contract rose five cents at US$2.95 per mmBTU.

The April gold contract added US$3.10 at US$1,230.20 an ounce and May copper gained a cent to US$2.69 a pound.