04/12/2013 08:14 EDT | Updated 06/12/2013 05:12 EDT

TSX heads sharply lower amid falling commodity prices, weak U.S. retail data

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market sold off Friday as concerns about the strength of the world's biggest economy raised demand worries and helped send oil and metal prices tumbling.

The S&P/TSX composite index dropped 143.79 points to 12,337.59.

Falling commodities helped push the Canadian dollar down 0.3 of a cent to 98.64 cents US.

U.S. indexes recouped most of earlier losses resulting from earnings disappointments from banks and a reading on March retail sales that missed expectations.

The Dow Jones industrials dipped 0.08 of a point to 14,865.06 as U.S. retail sales for March were down 0.4 per cent. Economists had expected a flat reading following a 1.1 per cent rise in February.

The weak showing indicated that higher taxes and weak hiring have made consumers more cautious about spending.

An increase in Social Security taxes, which kicked in on Jan. 1, has lowered take-home pay this year for nearly all workers. Someone earning $50,000 has about $1,000 less to spend in 2013.

"I had been a little puzzled as to why the markets haven’t been paying more attention to this story because it’s a very big dollar item," said Robert Gorman, chief portfolio strategist at TD Waterhouse.

"Increased payroll taxes (are) coming off the bottom line for most people, and they’re having to make choices and so, things... that you can defer are being deferred."

The Nasdaq composite index declined 5.21 points to 3,294.95 while the S&P 500 index was down 4.52 points to 1,588.85.

Gains this week have pushed the Dow industrials and the S&P 500 index further into record territory. However, traders wonder if the rally, which has gone on non-stop all year, is looking a bit stretched.

The TSX is now back in negative territory for the year, down flat for the week and with a decline of 0.77 per cent for the year so far.

The Dow industrials finished the week up 2.05 per cent, or about 13 per cent year to date and the S&P is ahead about 11 per cent so far in 2013.

But analysts think the TSX faces greater challenges since it is so weighted in favour of energy and mining companies.

Those sectors put in a weak showing Friday as prices for commodities further declined in the wake of the weak U.S. retail data.

The gold sector led decliners, down about six per cent as June bullion fell $63.50 to US$1,501.40 an ounce.

Gold has fallen this week by almost five per cent after Goldman Sachs dropped its forecast for 2013 to US$1,545 an ounce, down from a prior forecast of $1,610. Also, minutes of the latest Federal Reserve meeting showed members were at odds about when to stop quantitative easing.

The program, involving printing more money to buy bonds, has had a depressive effect on the U.S. dollar in the past and helped hike gold prices since bullion is seen as an inflation hedge.

"Without an immediate crisis and with risk of a financial meltdown fading, the haven component of gold pricing continues to erode, while a slow global economy and falling commodity prices reduce the need for an inflation hedge," said Colin Cieszynski, market analyst at CMC Markets Canada.

Goldcorp Inc. (TSX:G) gave back $1.44 to C$30.77.

Barrick Gold (TSX:ABX) faded $2.06 or 8.24 per cent to $22.94. Barrick shares have been under particularly selling pressure this week, tumbling nine per cent on Wednesday after a Chilean court suspended its Pascua-Lama mine after indigenous communities complained that the project is threatening their water supply and polluting glaciers.

The energy sector fell 1.95 per cent as May crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange dropped $2.22 to US$91.29 a barrel.

Oil continued to lose traction after the International Energy Agency lowered its forecast for global oil demand in 2013 by 45,000 barrels to 90.6 million barrels a day. Its predictions were similar to those made earlier this week by OPEC and the U.S. Energy Department. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) shed $1.21 to C$31.28 while Cenovus Energy (TSX:CVE) fell 51 cents to $30.43.

May copper stepped back eight cents to US$3.33 a pound and the base metals sector declined 2.92 per cent. Rio Alto Mining (TSX:RIO) was down 27 cents at C$4.33 and Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) dropped 56 cents to $28.14.

Weakness spread across all TSX sectors with the tech sector down one per cent as CGI Group (TSX:GIB.A) down 95 cents to $26.19.

Shares in BlackBerry (TSX:BB) edged three cents higher to $13.85 after the smartphone maker said it will file a formal complaint with Canadian and U.S. securities regulators about a "false and misleading" analyst report that the BlackBerry Z10 touchscreen devices are being returned in unusually high numbers. The Canadian company and U.S. carrier Verizon Wireless are disputing the report.

Traders also got their first look at earnings from American banks in the first quarter.

Shares in JPMorgan Chase were down 30 cents to US$49.01 as the bank made US$6.1 billion in the quarter, after stripping out payments to preferred shareholders. That was up 34 per cent from a year ago and amounted to $1.59 per share, 20 cents better than forecast.

Revenue was down three per cent from a year ago to $25.8 billion, after stripping out the effect of an accounting charge. That beat analysts’ estimates of $25.7 billion.

The TSX Venture Exchange lost 25.92 points to 1,022.61.