TSX lower as oil, metals prices sink; traders cautions in advance of Fed meeting

TORONTO – Lower commodity prices in the wake of disappointing economic news from China and uncertainty ahead of this week’s meeting of the U.S. Federal Reserve pushed North American stock markets lower Monday.

In Toronto, the S&P/TSX index was down 108.13 points at 13,353.34 amid lower oil and base metals prices after weekend reports from China showed factory output and investment was growing at a slower pace than forecast.

Every sector of the Toronto stock market closed lower, with metals and mining leading the way, declining nearly four per cent.

Meanwhile, in New York, indexes pulled back in the face of interest rate uncertainty going into this week’s two-day policy rate meeting of the Fed, which begins Wednesday.

The Dow Jones industrial average slid 62.13 points to 16,370.96, while the S&P 500 index fell 8.02 points to 1,953.03 and the Nasdaq declined 16.58 points to 4,805.76.

Norman Raschkowan, senior partner at Sage Road Advisors, says investors are sitting on the sidelines as they await the verdict from the Fed regarding which way interest rates will go.

“No one wants to take a very strong view just ahead of the decision,” Raschkowan said.

“Of course, in Canada, our market is also struggling with oil prices being down again today, and so you’re seeing the commodity stocks, oil related in particular, being quite weak.”

The October contract for benchmark crude oil was down 63 cents at US$44.00 a barrel, while October natural gas rose seven cents to US$2.76 per thousand cubic feet. December copper was down five cents at US$2.41 a pound, while December gold advanced $4.40 to US$1,107.70 an ounce.

The Canadian dollar gave back 0.02 of a U.S. cent to 75.43 cents US.

Up until recently, there had been expectations that the Fed might well raise its benchmark interest rate at the end of its two-day meeting on Thursday.

Now, many are suggesting that China’s slower economy and the resulting turbulence in global financial markets might prompt the Fed to postpone a rate hike, at least for a while. However, the U.S. central bank’s deputy chairman, Stanley Fischer, recently said he saw a “pretty strong case” for raising rates.

In addition to the economic news out of China, the government in Beijing announced plans Sunday for a sweeping overhaul of state industries. Leaders of the governing Communist party have promised to give entrepreneurs and market forces a bigger role but say state ownership will remain the core of the economy.

Under the new plan, state companies will face more free-market competition, become financially self-supporting and be divided into commercial entities and those that serve social purposes. The announcement contained few details on how this would be accomplished but promised a “decisive outcome” by 2020.

Pressure for change has mounted as economic growth in China fell to a two-decade low of 7.4 per cent last year and is forecast to contract to about seven per cent this year.

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