04/13/2015 08:05 EDT | Updated 06/19/2015 04:59 EDT

North American markets pull back after weak economic report from China

TORONTO - North American stock markets dipped Monday as traders focused on a steep decline in Chinese trade figures, as well as less than enthusiastic expectations for U.S. earnings season.

The S&P/TSX composite index pulled back 4.84 points to close at 15,383.59, while the Canadian dollar was at 79.42 cents after losing 0.07 of a U.S. cent.

The metals and mining sector was the biggest loser on the TSX, falling 2.25 per cent after a report from China said imports dropped 12 per cent in March compared with a year earlier, while exports declined 15 per cent.

With China's economic growth in the first three months of the year scheduled to be reported on Wednesday, the latest data added to concern for the outlook of Canada's second-largest trading partner.

New York markets were mixed as investors braced for bad news on the earnings front as a result of the stronger U.S. dollar and low oil prices. Overall, analysts have forecast that U.S. companies will report earnings that are three per cent lower than a year ago.

The Dow Jones industrial average was down 80.61 points at 17,977.04, while the Nasdaq fell 7.73 points to 4,988.25. The S&P 500 closed 9.63 points lower at 2,092.43.

"The market lacks direction," said Kevin Headland, director of capital markets and strategy at Manulife Asset Management.

"There's people concentrated on the Fed (interest rate comments) and not looking at the fundamentals, and those who are focused on the fundamentals and looking for a better entry point."

The U.S. dollar has found strength from hopes the Federal Reserve will raise interest rates later this year. The rise of the greenback has pushed gold prices back below US$1,200 an ounce.

Gold miners have been pressured by the descent of precious metals prices and an two such miners announced merger plans on Monday.

Alamos Gold (TSX:AGI) and AuRico Gold (TSX:AUQ), have signed a friendly deal worth US$1.5 billion. Together, the companies will each hold half of a new firm whose assets include the Young-Davidson mine in Ontario and two operating mines in Mexico, Alamos' Mulatos and AuRico's El Chanate.

The June gold contract gave back $5.30 to US$1,199.30 an ounce, while the May copper contract was down 1.5 cents at US$2.72 a pound.

TSX energy stocks slid 0.03 per cent even as oil futures moved higher for the third consecutive session. The May crude contract settled at US$51.91 a barrel, ahead 27 cents.

The financial sector gained 0.3 per cent as federal Finance Minister Joe Oliver unveiled an extension of the voluntary code of conduct for credit and debit card transactions to include mobile payments.

U.S. earnings will kick into high gear Tuesday with financial reports expected from JPMorgan Chase, Johnson & Johnson, and Wells Fargo.

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