11/11/2013 08:47 EST | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Interest sensitive telecoms, utilities help push Toronto stock market lower

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market closed little changed Monday as interest sensitive stocks continued to sell off amid rising U.S. bond yields and retailers declined ahead of earnings reports later in the week.

The S&P/TSX composite index slipped 19.94 points to 13,358.39 amid generally lacklustre trading and lower than usual volumes as banks, many businesses and the bond market closed for Remembrance Day.

On international markets, the Canadian dollar was up 0.06 of a cent at 95.5 cents US late in the afternoon.

U.S. indexes made slight headway with the Dow Jones industrials ahead 21.32 points to a another record high of 15,783.1, the Nasdaq gained 0.56 of a point to 3,919.79 and the S&P 500 index was up 1.28 points at 1,771.89.

North American markets had racked up a solid gain Friday in the wake of a much stronger than expected American jobs reports for October while other data showed third-quarter U.S. economic growth came in higher than expected.

The report raised concerns that the U.S. Federal Reserve could start cutting back on its monthly US$85 billion of bond purchases as early as the end of next month.

That is why the major economic event of the week likely occurs Thursday when the U.S. Senate banking committee will quiz Janet Yellen, President Barack Obama's candidate to become the next chair of the central bank.

Yellen has a reputation for being a dove as far as stimulus is concerned and traders will be listening for any hints as to whether she thinks the economy is strong enough to start tapering a key stimulus measure that has supported a strong rally on many stock markets.

"The employment report definitely was far more encouraging that I thought it was going to be, considering the government shutdown and the type of lingering effects that might have had," said Gareth Watson, vice-president, investment management and research, Richardson GMP Ltd.

"Who knows, some of these numbers could easily be revised downwards, which is always a possibility. But I think she is stuck with a situation where I think she knows she has to taper sometime."

Interest rate sensitive sectors led TSX decliners.

Telecoms and particularly utilities have been under pressure as U.S. bond yields have moved up sharply on Fed tapering speculation with the key U.S. 10-year Treasury standing at Friday's level of 2.75 per cent, which was up 0.15 of a point from the previous session. The U.S. bond market was closed Monday for Veterans Day.

The telecom sector was down 0.62 per cent with BCE down 42 cents to $45.94.

The utilities sector lost 0.46 per cent as Atlantic Power (TSX:ATP) fell nine cents to $3.96 while Algonquin Power & Utilities gave back nine cents to $6.56.

The consumer staples sector was also a weight with shares in home improvement retailer Rona (TSX:RON), which posts quarterly earnings Tuesday, down 19 cents to $12.01. Elsewhere in the sector, grocer Metro (TSX:MRU), which reports Wednesday, fell $1.15 to $65.22.

The energy sector dropped 0.4 per cent as the December crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange erased early losses to move up 54 cents to US$95.14 a barrel. Canadian Natural Resources (TSX:CNQ) shed 52 cents to C$32.51.

The base metals sector gave back 0.34 per cent with December copper up one cent to US$3.26 a pound. Teck Resources (TSX:TCK.B) shed 30 cents to C$28.07.

The gold sector was slightly lower as December bullion was down $3.50 to US$1,281.10 an ounce. Agnico Eagle Mines (TSX:AEM) faded 62 cents to C$30.06. Gold stocks and bullion prices have been under renewed pressure amid increasing speculation that the Fed is set to back off on its asset purchases, which has in turn pushed the greenback higher.

"And that’s why we don’t like (the gold sector) at all and we don’t think people should be looking at it as an opportunity to enter now, especially for long-term investors," Watson said.

"I think that trade is done for this cycle. There will be some ebbs and flows to give you short-term trading opportunities, but good luck."

The tech sector led advancers amid acquisition activity between two major telecom equipment companies.

Telecom Mitel Networks Corp. (TSX:MNW) will acquire Aastra Technologies Ltd. (TSX:AAH) in a stock and cash deal valued at about $400 million. The combined company would have about US$1.1 billion of total revenue, with a global customer base and an opportunity to tap into demand for equipment that supports cloud computing.

Mitel shares gained momentum in the late afternoon after Moody's Investors Service said it was reviewing whether it should upgrade the credit rating outlook for the telecom. Mitel stock closed up six cents at $7.15 while Aastra shares surged $4.06, or 14.38 per cent, to $32.29.

Shares in Manulife Financial Corp. (TSX:MFC) were 10 cents lower to $19.62 after the insurance giant became the latest big-name investor to buy into a $1-billion financing deal for struggling smartphone maker BlackBerry (TSX:BB). BlackBerry closed down eight cents to $6.76.