05/25/2012 08:23 EDT | Updated 07/25/2012 05:12 EDT

Lower financials leave TSX little changed, markets snaps three-week losing run

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed little changed Friday with buyers inclined to be cautious going into the weekend as the eurozone debt crisis continued to cast a pall over trading.

The S&P/TSX composite index gained 10.4 points to 11,576.47, finely balanced as gold and energy stocks rose alongside rising commodity prices and bank stocks backed off on concerns about the European banking system. The TSX Venture Exchange rose 26.79 points to 1,309.27.

The Canadian dollar dipped 0.23 of a cent to 97.13 cents US.

U.S. markets were negative ahead of the Memorial Day holiday long weekend and failed to find lift from data showing improving U.S. consumer confidence. The University of Michigan's widely watched index came in at 79.3 for this month up from 76.4 in April.

It was the latest example of traders ignoring positive economic data and continuing to focus on the possible unravelling of the eurozone.

"The U.S. economy is on a self-sustaining (recovery) path and these recent numbers just ahead of summer and the holiday season bode well," said Paul Vaillancourt, chief investment officer at Canadian Wealth Management.

The Dow Jones industrial average was 74.92 points lower at 12,454.83.

The Nasdaq composite index lost 1.85 points to 2,837.53 and the S&P 500 index fell 2.86 points to 1,317.82.

The TSX registered a solid gain this week after three weeks of losses, up 296 points or 2.6 per cent as traders moved in to buy up stocks that have been beaten down in value this month. But even so, the Toronto market has shed about six per cent so far in May, reflecting a growing possibility that Greece will leave the euro.

Political parties opposed to the terms of the country’s financial rescue made huge gains in an otherwise inconclusive election and the worry is that they will further improve their showing in the next election June 17.

And those eurozone worries have resulted in dramatic losses elsewhere.

"Four trillion (dollars) was wiped off equity markets worldwide in the past month — and that’s just the uncertainty," added Vaillancourt.

"It is a tough environment."

A new ballot planned for next month could see the anti-bailout political parties gain power in Greece, which would raise the likelihood of that country's leaving the euro.

European leaders say they want Greece to stay in the euro, but have so far shown no willingness to compromise on its austerity terms. The uncertainty of a Greek exit from the euro will hang over European markets at least until the elections on June 17.

Meanwhile, a top European Central Bank official says the 17 countries that use the euro need an "urgent overhaul" of their banking and financial system to deal with the debt crisis. Peter Praet, who is part of the six-member executive committee that runs the ECB’s daily operations, said this should include a multinational authority with the power to restructure and bail out banks.

Fears that banks may need government bailouts, potentially overwhelming public finances, have been a key driver of the eurozone debt crisis, most recently in Spain.

A large Spanish bank that was taken over by the government is asking for €19 billion in state funds. Bankia, the country’s fourth-largest lender, asked that trading in its shares be suspended all day while its board determined how much new aid it needs. The bank’s shares have whipped about violently in recent weeks on fears it could succumb to the massive losses it has built up in the country’s collapsed real estate sector.

The financial sector was the biggest TSX loser despite earnings reports from Bank of Montreal (TSX:BMO) and TD Bank (TSX:TD) earlier this week that beat analyst expectations. The sector moved down one per cent on weaker outlooks and concerns about the potential fallout for the eurozone financial system if Greece leaves the monetary union.

TD Bank (TSX:TD) lost 77 cents to $78.22 and Royal Bank (TSX:RY) fell $1.03 to $50.35.

Commodity prices were higher after demand worries and a higher U.S. dollar sent oil, copper and gold to multi-month lows earlier this week.

The gold sector was ahead about 1.35 per cent as the June bullion contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange gained $11.40 to US$1,568.90 an ounce. Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) was up 74 cents to C$41.24.

The energy sector gained 0.87 per cent as oil prices turned positive following the release of the American consumer data with the July crude contract in New York moving 20 cents higher to US$90.86 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) gained 29 cents to C$31.70 while Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) rose 38 cents to $28.87.

The base metals sector ticked 0.26 per cent lower while the July copper contract on the Nymex was up two cents at US$3.45 a pound. HudBay Minerals (TSX:HBM) dropped 13 cents to C$7.83.

In corporate news, Garda World Security Corp. (TSX:GW) on Friday reported its best ever first-quarter results with earnings that easily beat analyst expectations. Net profit was $6.3 million or 20 cents a share, up 39 per cent from a year ago and four cents above expectations. Revenue totalled $320.5 million, up from $286 million and its shares gained 75 cents to $8.06.

And Facebook ended its first full week of trading with a loss, closing down $1.12 or 3.39 per cent to US$31.91, a long way from its initial public offering price of $38.