CANADA STOCKS-TSX down after Fed goes flexible; gold miners sink

Reuters

* TSX ends down 0.24 percent at 14,334.04 * Investors retreat after Fed meeting, dropped guideposts * Worries over Ukraine fade, hurting gold miners (Adds analyst comment after Fed; updates prices to close) By Alastair Sharp TORONTO, March 19 (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index slipped on Wednesday after the Federal Reserve stuck with a withdrawal of monetary stimulus and dropped a guideline for when U.S. interest rates may eventually rise.

The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index ended down 34.94 points, or 0.24 percent, at 14,334.04. Half of its 10 main sectors were in the red.

The reaction surprised Rick Hutcheon, president and chief operating officer at RKH Investments, who said the move gave the Fed more flexibility to react to numerous data points rather than be locked into perhaps misleading employment numbers.

"It's puzzling," Hutcheon said of the sharp fall in U.S. stocks that was then replicated to a lesser degree north of the border. "I would have thought it was market friendly." Canadian equity losses were felt most sharply in several major gold-mining shares, which were already down on a stabilization in the Ukraine crisis, but somewhat neutralized by gains in Canadian Natural Resources and other oil and gas stocks.

"I like the Canadian energy sector a lot ... Its fate is going to be determined by the recovery of the U.S. industrial might. The Americans need our energy," Hutcheon said, adding that western European countries were also looking to buy Canadian gas as Russia takes over Ukrainian military bases in Crimea.

Banks and telecoms companies, both well-known dividend plays, also featured in the list of top performers, with Rogers Communications Inc up 1.3 percent at C$44.10 and Bank of Montreal gaining 0.4 percent to C$72.63.

Barrick Gold Corp fell 3.4 percent to C$21.78 and Goldcorp Inc was off 2.7 percent at C$30, with the gold miners falling with bullion prices on a mixture of Fed reaction and an easing of anxiety over the Ukraine crisis. Worries about Ukraine had recently added to gold's safe-haven appeal.

"The Crimean situation has cooled down and nothing goes straight up forever, so gold is having a bit of a pause here," said John Kinsey, a portfolio manager at Caldwell Securities.

Investors have found comfort in energy stocks that have positioned themselves for a continuation of slow economic growth in a low interest rate environment.

"They have good production growth for the foreseeable future and they've also cut costs early, delayed some of their expansion projects and been buying back stock and some nice dividend increases," Kinsey said of Canadian Natural Resources , which was up 0.9 percent at C$40.94.

($1=$1.12 Canadian) (Editing by James Dalgleish)

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