S&P/TSX composite falls to lowest level in four weeks ahead of federal election

TORONTO — Canada's main stock index closed at its lowest level in nearly four weeks as its largest sectors came under pressure ahead of Monday's federal election.

A confluence of factors affected markets on both sides of the border, including weak economic news out of China, rising COVID cases, U.S. infrastructure plan uncertainty and some uneasiness heading into the upcoming election, said Kevin Headland, senior investment Strategist at Manulife Investment Management.

With another minority government expected in Ottawa, there is uncertainty over Liberal and Conservative tax plans.

"Typically, the election results in Canada do not really have much of an effect on the broad market," Headland said in an interview, "but what we've seen leading up to prior elections is a sense of uneasiness, and the markets don't like uncertainty."

"Just given that (it's) the Friday before the election on Monday, perhaps there's a bit of profit-taking there."

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 111.74 points to 20,490.36, the lowest level since Aug. 23.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 166.44 points at 34,584.88. The S&P 500 index was down 40.76 points at 4,432.99, while the Nasdaq composite was down 137.95 points at 15,043.97.

One commonality between movements in U.S. and Canadian markets is the calendar, with September being the worst month of the year, he said.

Even Thursday's positive U.S. retail sales numbers were viewed through the prism of what that could mean for the Federal Reserve's decision on stimulus tapering.

Investors are eagerly waiting for the central bank's interest rate decision and guidance on its upcoming moves on Wednesday.

Although the market doesn't like the idea of "taking the punch bowl away" with stimulus being cut back, the last time this was done in 2013 and 2014 was actually positive for markets, Headland said.

"Even positive news can't can be seen as negative by this market right now."

Nine of the 11 major sectors on the TSX were down on Friday lead by energy, consumer staples, financials and materials.

Energy dropped nearly two per cent as crude oil price slipped.

The November crude contract was down 55 cents at US$71.82 per barrel and the October natural gas contract was down 23 cents at US$5.11 per mmBTU.

Shares of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd. were down three per cent, followed by MEG Energy Corp. and Whitecap Resources Inc. as 2.8 and 2.6 per cent, respectively.

Headland said coal seemed to be a main driver for energy sector weakness.

The Canadian dollar traded for 78.61 cents US compared with 78.90 cents US on Thursday.

Headland expects the loonie could appreciate in value to 80 cents or above with continued support from oil prices.

Even though gold and copper prices were lower, steel seemed to be a contributing factor with Labrador Iron Ore Royalty Corp. down 5.8 per cant and Stelco Holdings Inc. off 4.8 per cent after U.S. Steel announced plans to build a new mill.

"Perhaps there's expectation that they'll be less demand for Canadian steel if there's an increase in production in U.S.-made steel," he said.

The December gold contract was down US$5.30 at US$1,751.40 an ounce and the December copper contract was down 3.6 cents at nearly US$4.25 a pound.

Alimentation Couche-Tard Inc. led consumer staples lower while the heavyweight financials sector was down one per cent with Laurentian Bank down 2.3 per cent, Manulife Financial off 1.8 per cent and Royal Bank of Canada 1.5 per cent lower.

Only health care and industrials were up on the day. Industrials climbed as Canadian National Railway Co. shareholders welcomed the company's strategic plans after walking away from its effort to acquire Kansas City Southern.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:CNQ, TSX:MEG, TSX:WCP, TSX:LB, TSX:MFC, TSX:RY, TSX:LIF, TSX:STLC, TSX:ATD.B, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X)

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