North American stock markets end losing week as investors turn cautious

·4 min read

TORONTO — North American stock markets closed down to end a losing week as investors turned cautious ahead of an historically weaker seasonal period.

Stock markets have been on fire since the November U.S. presidential election as investors shifted from growth sectors like technology to cyclicals such as financials, energy and industrials that allowed the TSX to outperform its U.S. peers.

But the sentiment seems to have changed this week, perhaps because the gains have gone too far, rising COVID-19 variants and concerns that the reopenings may be slower than everyone feared, said Greg Taylor, chief investment officer of Purpose Investments.

"It feels like this week we've had really a set change in the market, that it feels like people are getting a little more cautious on the cyclical trade," he said in an interview.

The result was a selloff in the energy sector, along with weakness in materials and financials.

All three were lower on Friday to pull the S&P/TSX composite index down 198.18 points or one per cent to 19,985.54, its lowest close in six weeks.

Materials plunged 3.4 per cent on a weaker gold price as shares of Turquoise Hill Resources Ltd. were down 15.1 per cent and First Quantum Minerals Ltd. was 9.6 per cent lower.

Turquoise Hill was hit by analyst downgrades while First Quantum was hurt by speculation that Panama might start hiking royalties that would affect its copper mine.

The August gold contract was down US$14 at US$1,815.00 an ounce and the September copper contract was unchanged at US$4.32 a pound.

Energy dropped 3.2 per cent despite relatively flat crude oil prices as shares of Crescent Point Energy Corp. were down 5.3 per cent, Vermilion Energy Inc. was off 4.8 per cent and MEG Energy Corp. was down 4.5 per cent.

The September crude oil contract was up 18 cents at US$71.56 per barrel but off four per cent in one week. The August natural gas contract was up six cents at US$3.67 per mmBTU.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 299.17 points at 34,687.85 after coming within one point of an all-time high. The S&P 500 index was down 32.87 points at 4,327.16, while the Nasdaq composite was down 115.89 points at 14,427.24.

The Canadian dollar traded for 79.41 cents US compared with 79.54 cents US on Thursday.

The heavyweight financials sector was pushed lower by decreases among several Canadian banks with the Royal Bank of Canada down 1.4 per cent.

Shares of U.S. banks weren't rewarded this week despite strong quarterly results. That could also be negatively affecting the attitude toward Canadian banks which have already reported second-quarter results.

"It just feels like we've got more people taking money off the table, in some of these cyclical areas and then there's really not much to offset it as there's not a lot of strength in the market today," Taylor said.

The move was supported by University of Michigan sentiment data which dropped to a five-month low in July. That suggests U.S. consumers may pull back spending in the second half of the year even though June retail sales numbers were better than expected.

Taylor called the decreases "classic summer market action" where August and September are weak.

As we go into the second half of July, people are starting to lock-in some wins from a very strong market over the last 18 months, in which the TSX gained nearly 17 per cent, by taking some money off the table.

"It wouldn't be that surprising to see a five per cent correction or something like that in the next month or so in the markets," Taylor said.

"I don't think it's going to go much more than that and I still think we're higher by year-end, but just generally people are cautious into the next few months."

In addition to concerns about a potential fourth wave of COVID, moves by central banks to start to taper or remove some stimulus could be negative for markets but represent a healthy pullback, he said.

"It just feels like it's more unlikely the markets are going to rip a lot higher from here. It's more that we're going to be sideways to a down bias for the next few months as we get more clarity on what the central banks are going to do and also what the reopening is really going to look like."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published July 16, 2021.

Companies in this story: (TSX:RY, TSX:TRQ, TSX:FM, TSX:VET, TSX:MEG, TSX:CPG, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X)

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press

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