The resource-heavy S&P/TSX composite index edged up 2.98 points to 14,302.06.
The weak economic data from overseas, coupled with Friday's poor employment report, pushed the Canadian dollar down 0.09 of a cent to 90.08 cents US.
Data released Monday from Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. showed the pace of housing starts picked up in February. Starts rose at a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 192,094, up from 180,481 in January and represented the first month-over-month increase since October.
New York's Dow Jones industrials lost 34.04 points to 16,418.68, the Nasdaq was down 1.77 points at 4,334.45 and the S&P 500 index was off 0.87 of a point at 1,877.17.
China’s exports fell by an unexpectedly large 18 per cent in February. The country's official 2014 economic growth target of 7.5 per cent assumes trade also will grow by 7.5 per cent. But customs data showed that combined imports and exports so far this year have shrunk by 4.8 per cent.
"For the world’s second-largest economy to add seven per cent to output is still a meaningful contribution to global growth," said Craig Fehr, Canadian markets specialist at Edward Jones in St. Louis.
"But the trajectory is slowing and that’s concerning and Chinese officials are trying to orchestrate this transition from a hyper-growth economy that was dependent upon public investment to a domestic economy — and that’s not a smooth transition."
The base metals sector led TSX losers, down almost three per cent as copper prices fell for a second session in the wake of the Chinese data, with the May contract in New York losing another five cents to US$3.03 a pound. Prices for the metal tumbled 14 cents Friday after Chinese authorities allowed the country’s first corporate bond default, which fuelled speculation as to how many more companies may be in a similar situation.
The gold sector declined about 0.65 per cent even as the April bullion contract climbed $3.30 to US$1,341.50.
Barrick Gold Corp. (TSX:ABX) is divesting part of its holdings in African Barrick Gold plc. Barrick says about 41 million ordinary shares it indirectly holds in African Barrick, representing about 10 per cent of the company, will be placed with institutional investors. Based on Monday's figures, the value of the stock would be more than C$233 million. Barrick shares faded 18 cents to $21.90.
The energy sector edged up 0.07 per cent as the weak overseas data pushed the April crude contract in New York down $1.46 to US$101.12 a barrel.
The TSX was supported by modest gains in consumer staples and financials.
Elsewhere on the corporate front, The Second Cup Ltd. (TSX:SCU) recorded quarterly net income of $1.18 million or 12 cents a share, improved from the year earlier loss of $12 million when Second Cup recognized the impaired value of its assets. Its shares shed early declines to close up 22 cents at $5.02.
In the U.S., Chiquita will combine with Dublin-based Fyffes to become the world’s top banana company. The stock-for-stock transaction creates a global banana and fresh produce company with $4.6 billion in annual revenues. Chiquita rose 10.7 per cent to US$12.