The S&P/TSX composite index was up 9.37 points to 12,382.67 following six losing sessions with pressure coming in particular from base metals stocks.
The tepid performance followed a slide of more than two per cent last week, leaving the TSX in negative territory for the year.
"I don’t think there is going to be anything too much to keep it in positive territory", said John Stephenson, portfolio manager at First Asset Funds Inc.
"You have too much of a resource focus, a market that’s really twinned between two dominant sectors, financials being one and materials/energy being two."
Lululemon Athletica Inc. (TSX:LLL) (Nasdaq:LULU) was also in focus and its shares fell almost nine per cent in aftermarket trading in New York after CEO Christine Day said she is stepping down. Day will remain in the job until a successor is named. The yoga wear retailer also handed in earnings of 32 cents a share, which met expectations and announced plans to delist from the TSX.
The Canadian dollar advanced, up 0.08 of a cent to 98.14 cents US amid a solid report on the housing sector.
Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Monday that housing starts were trending at 182,756 units in May compared with 182,971 in April. The trend is a six-month moving average of the monthly seasonally adjusted annual rates of housing starts.
But the seasonally adjusted stand-alone annual rate was 200,178 units in May, an increase from 175,922 in April.
U.S. indexes were generally listless after registering sharp gains at the end of last week because of a strong jobs report.
The Dow Jones industrials was down 9.53 points to 15,238.59, the Nasdaq added 4.55 points to 3,473.77 and the S&P 500 index slipped 0.57 of a point to 1,642.81.
Traders also took in an upgrade on the U.S. credit rating from Standard & Poor’s. S&P revised its long-term outlook to stable from negative, citing economic strength and the dollar's status as a reserve currency. The agency had downgraded the U.S. sovereign rating to AA-plus from its top rating of AAA in 2011.
Prices for oil and copper declined as data released on the weekend showed China’s trade, retail sales and other activity in May were weaker than expected, fuelling concerns about the country’s shaky economic recovery.
China’s trade surplus rose to $20.4 billion in May from $18.2 billion the prior month. However, export growth slowed dramatically to just one per cent from a year ago, which was the slowest increase since July 2012. Imports slipped 0.3 per cent from year-earlier levels.
"Of those three figures, I’d say that the weak import result is the most worrying as it suggests domestic demand has weakened considerably," said BMO Capital Markets senior economist Jennifer Lee.
Meanwhile in Japan, the first-quarter growth rate was revised up from an annualized rate of 3.5 per cent to 4.1 per cent.
Elsewhere on the TSX, shares of E-L Financial Corp. (TSX:ELF) jumped after it announced the pending $1.125-billion sale of Dominion of Canada General Insurance Co. to Travelers Companies Inc. (NYSE:TRV), a major U.S. insurance company. E-L Financial gained $56 or 9.46 per cent to $648 on a thin volume of 3,135 shares.
Consumer staples stocks led advances with Shoppers Drug Mart (TSX:SC) ahead 38 cents to $45.75.
The gold sector was also supportive, up about 0.35 per cent with August bullion up $3 to US$1,386 an ounce. Barrick gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) climbed 21 cents to C$20.81.
The energy sector climbed 0.2 per cent even as July crude on the New York Mercantile Exchange shed 26 cents to US$95.77 a barrel. Suncor Energy (TSX:SU) improved by 14 cents to C$31.80.
The base metals sector was down 0.84 per cent as July copper fell three cents to US$3.24 a pound on top a 10-cent slide over the previous two sessions. Copper is widely viewed as an economic barometer as it is used in so many applications. Sector heavyweight Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) lost 61 cents to C$25.04.
Railway stocks fell alongside miners as Canadian Pacific Railway (TSX:CP) declined $2.30 to $126.86.
The tepid performance on the TSX continued the generally negative showing on the TSX, which gained momentum after Fed chairman Ben Bernanke said May 22 that the U.S. central bank might pull back on its $85-billion-a-month bond-buying program if economic data, especially hiring, improved significantly. Other Fed officials have spoken about a winding down of bond purchases sooner.
The quantitative easing program has kept interest rates low and also helped fuel a strong rally on U.S. stock markets.
The TSX has been dragged lower by mining stocks in particular, a reflection of a slow global recovery.
But speculation about cutting back on the QE program has had the effect of pushing U.S. Treasury yields sharply higher, which in turn has had a negative effect on TSX defensive sectors as well.
"We have seen REITs pull back in the last couple of weeks by eight per cent or thereabouts, same for utilities and pipelines — so it’s a pretty big pullback," added Stephenson.
"And . . . financials in Canada are interest sensitive to a degree and you have weakening data in terms of housing. And people are saying this is not a very good story."