03/17/2014 08:23 EDT | Updated 05/17/2014 05:59 EDT

TSX little changed amid falling gold prices; fears over Crimea vote fade

TORONTO - The Toronto stock market chalked up a slight gain Monday as traders looked beyond the weekend vote that saw an overwhelming number of Crimeans opt to break from Ukraine and join Russia.

Traders are now looking to see what level of sanctions will ultimately be imposed against Russia for its part in backing the referendum.

The S&P/TSX composite index edged up 4.23 points to 14,231.89, held back by a steep slide in gold stocks as bullion backed off after running up sharply last week ahead of the vote. The Canadian dollar was up 0.34 of a cent to 90.47 cents US.

U.S. indexes surged amid data showing that U.S. factory production rose 0.8 per cent in February, nearly reversing a 0.9 per cent plunge in January that was due mainly to weather.

The Dow Jones industrials jumped 181.55 points to 16,247.22, the Nasdaq advanced 34.55 points to 4,279.95 and the S&P 500 index gained 17.7 points to 1,858.83.

The European Union slapped travel bans and asset freezes on 21 people from Russia and Crimea they have linked to the push for secession.

Also, U.S. President Barack Obama signed an executive order that targeted seven Russian government officials for sanctions. And the U.S. Treasury Department is imposing sanctions on four Ukrainians, including former president Viktor Yanukovych.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his government is also putting economic sanctions and travel restrictions on senior people in Russia, Ukraine and Crimea.

"The response has been very targeted at individuals as opposed to general trade and against the country," said Gareth Watson, vice-president investment management and research at Richardson GMP Ltd.

"That just tells you that they don’t want to escalate this."

Meanwhile, Imperial Oil (TSX:IMO) is selling its interest in assets in Boundary Lake, Cynthia/West Pembina and Rocky Mountain House in Western Canada to Whitecap Resources Inc. (TSX:WCP) for approximately $855 million. Imperial shares added 10 cents to $51.17.

Whitecap shares were up 81 cents to $12.34 on very heavy volume of 14 million shares on the TSX after the company also issued improved production figures and hiked its annual dividend payout to 75 cents a year from 68 cents.

And the Wall Street Journal reported that gas giant Encana (TSX:ECA) is in advanced talks to sell its Wyoming natural gas fields to private equity firm Carlyle Group for about $2 billion. Its shares climbed eight cents to $22.54.

Watson observed that investors can expect more of this activity in the future as "interest rates are still extremely low, borrowing is cheap, (creating) a very solid environment for merger and acquisition activity," he said.

The TSX base metals sector was the leading advancer, up 1.24 per cent with copper unchanged at US$2.95 a pound after a string of negative data from China sent prices down eight per cent last week.

The energy sector was up 0.1 per cent as April crude dipped 81 cents to US$98.08 a barrel.

Financials and industrials also provided lift for the TSX.

Bombardier Inc. (TSX:BBD.B) is one of four companies picked to supply a total of 1,064 locomotives to South Africa’s state-owned freight rail system. The total contract is worth about $5.16 billion but Bombardier’s announcement didn’t disclose how much its share was worth. Its shares gained 19 cents to $4.11.

The gold sector gave back about 3.3 per cent as gold prices faded $6.10 to US$1,372.90 an ounce.