CANADA STOCKS-TSX steady as Ukraine fears offset U.S. data

Reuters

* TSX down 5.44 points, or 0.04 percent, at 14,178.66 * Five of 10 main index sectors decline * Oil prices help push up energy shares By John Tilak TORONTO, March 27 (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index was little changed in choppy trading on Thursday as concerns about the crisis in Ukraine undermined positive economic signals from the United States.

The index's energy and materials groups rose on higher prices for some commodities, but shares of banks and insurers declined.

A government report showed that fourth-quarter U.S. economic growth was faster than previously estimated, and separate data indicated that new applications for unemployment benefits dropped last week to a near four-month low.

Worries about the crisis in Ukraine continued to nag at the market, however. Ukraine has won an IMF-linked $27-billion international financial lifeline, it was announced on Thursday, while Moscow's economy minister warned of slowing growth in Russia.

"Stocks are caught up with lingering geopolitical stress and the impact of further sanctions on Russia," said Fergal Smith, managing market strategist at Action Economics.

"(The Ukraine situation) has made it difficult for stocks to make new highs," he added. "What's become more notable is that the pullback has started to come on higher volume." Smith said he was looking for "modest, but not outsized, gains" in the Toronto stock market's benchmark index this year.

After hitting a near six-year high last week, the index has gained about 4 percent this year, but it is down on the month.

On Thursday. The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index was down 5.44 points, or 0.04 percent, at 14,178.66. Five of the 10 main sectors on the index were in the red.

Financials, the index's most heavily weighted sector, dropped 0.4 percent. Bank of Nova Scotia shed 0.6 percent to C$64.29, and Manulife Financial Corp gave back 0.3 percent to C$21.35.

The materials sector, which includes mining stocks, climbed 0.8 percent. In the group, Goldcorp Inc added 1.5 percent to C$27.59, and Barrick Gold Corp rose 1.4 percent to C$20.08.

With oil prices rising, energy shares advanced 0.6 percent. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd jumped 2 percent to C$42.16, and Suncor Energy Inc was up 0.9 percent at C$36.94.

($1=$1.11 Canadian) (Editing by Peter Galloway)

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