04/17/2015 08:59 EDT | Updated 07/03/2015 08:59 EDT

North American markets close lower over worrisome news from overseas

TORONTO - U.S. stock markets closed sharply lower Friday, with the Dow plunging nearly 300 points, while north of the border stronger gold prices helped the Toronto stock market keep losses in check.

The S&P/TSX composite closed down 26.22 points at 15,360.55, adding to a 64-point decline Thursday. The loonie also pulled back after a six-day run-up, down 0.32 of a U.S. cent at 81.78 cents.

South of the border, anxieties over possible Greek insolvency and regulatory changes in China pushed markets lower.

"Then you've got all these negative headlines about ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Russia, Iran," said Craig Jerusalim, portfolio manager at CIBC Asset Management. "It's all spooking the market a little bit."

The Dow was down 279.47 points at 17,826.30, the Nasdaq fell 75.98 points to 4,931.81 and the S&P 500 lost 23.81 points to 2,081.18.

"With the U.S. market being down so much, I think it just highlights the importance of gold to the Canadian markets," Jerusalim said.

Trading was also disrupted Friday by an outage of Bloomberg's financial terminals, which traders rely on in order to analyze securities.

Meanwhile, despite dipping slightly Friday, the price of oil has experienced a bit of a bounce recently, from a range in the low US$40-a-barrel range to the mid-50s.

"Short term, what you're seeing is the refinery turnaround season or shoulder season is coming to an end as we enter into the stronger demand driving season in North America," Jerusalim said.

"That's helped the oil commodity price, along with all the major capex cuts we've seen from the producers as well as the rig count dropping. Finally what we're starting to see is some month-over-month supply drops, or production drops, in North America, which I think is supporting the oil price partially."

Quarterly earnings from CN Rail (TSX:CNR), which come out on Monday, could provide some clues into the strength of the North American economy, Jerusalim said.

"Its competitive advantage is a network that criss-crosses Canada from east to west and the U.S. from north to south, and no one has that strong a rail network in North America. So it'll be a real bellwether to see how strong this economy really is."

Rogers is also set to report earnings on Monday. Results from the two companies combined are likely to have an impact on the TSX, Jerusalim said.

"We've seen revenue expectations come down, but earnings have been holding in due to cost-cutting. I'm going to be looking for signs of weakness, both top line and bottom line, for indications of which way the stock market is going to move."

On the commodity markets, the May crude contract lost 97 cents to US$55.74 a barrel, while June gold advanced $5.10 to US$1,203.10 an ounce. Copper was unchanged at $2.77.