North American markets largely pushed higher Friday after a choppy session, capping off a tumultuous period that has seen Canada’s main stock index drop more than 5% since last week and 8% from its all-time high.
In Toronto, the S&P/TSX composite index was down 31.08 points or 0.21% to 15,034.53, after losing nearly 280 points and gaining more than 45 points throughout the day.
On the commodity-heavy TSX, defensive buys into the health-care and utilities sectors helped offset losses in the influential energy and materials sectors.
In New York, stocks staged a late rally, with the Dow Jones industrial average finishing the session up 330.44 points or 1.38% to 24,190.90 — after briefly sinking as low as 500 points.
Meanwhile, the S&P 500 index was up 38.55 points or 1.49% to 2,619.55, and the Nasdaq composite index was up 97.33 points or 1.44% to 6,874.49.
Both the Dow and S&P 500 lost more than 5% for the week, as the Dow recorded 1,000-point drops on Monday and Thursday.
The late rally across U.S. equity markets Friday could bode well for the next opening of markets on Monday.
How stocks trade in the 30 minutes leading up to the close of markets — often called the most important half hour of the day — “typically sets the tone for the next trading session,” said Ian Scott, an equity analyst at Manulife Asset Management.
Still, the defensiveness that stock markets have seen this week likely means that investors aren’t ready to fully embrace buying into the unusually large dips seen recently, as they have in the past. “It may keep drifting for a while,” Scott said.
Financial analysts regard corrections as normal events but say the abrupt stock market rout that began last Friday might have been triggered by a combination of events that rattled investors. Those include worries about a potential rise in U.S. inflation or interest rates and budget disputes in Washington.
Statistics Canada’s weaker-than-expected jobs report released Friday, in which jobs fell by 88,000 in January to give the labour market its steepest one-month drop in nine years, is also likely adding additional downward pressure on the TSX.
“There’s going to be questions about whether that’s tied in the minimum wage increases we’ve had in Ontario,” Scott said. “The Canadian index is probably likely to take longer to rebound than the U.S. indices will, just given that the risk that NAFTA is going to be abolished seems to be increasing with time rather than increasing.”
In currency markets, the Canadian dollar closed at an average trading value of US79.31¢, down 0.15 of a U.S. cent — continuing a sharp drop that has seen the loonie rocked by global equity volatility.
The Canadian dollar tends to move on several types of data — particularly commodity prices, which also saw their fortunes reversed this week by the heightened levels of volatility in the market place.
When oil prices fall, the loonie typically follows suit, especially against the greenback as oil prices are denominated in U.S. dollars. The March crude contract was down US$1.95 to US$59.20 per barrel on Friday.
Elsewhere in commodities, the March natural gas contract was down 11¢ to US$2.58 per mmBTU. The April gold contract was down US$3.30 to US$1,315.70 an ounce and the March copper contract was down US5¢ to US$3.03 a pound.