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Commodities push S&P/TSX composite down ahead of quadruple witching option expiry

TORONTO — A drop in commodities depressed Canada's main stock index a day before heightened volatility associated with the quarterly expiry of options known as quadruple witching.

TORONTO — A drop in commodities depressed Canada's main stock index a day before heightened volatility associated with the quarterly expiry of options known as quadruple witching.

North American stock markets were weak to start the day but partially recovered into closing.

"There was a bit of anxiety going into midday that the market (S&P 500) might break technical support below 4,450. But we've now since recovered all that, calmed down and I think we might do this all again tomorrow because it's Quad Witching," said independent currency analyst Erik Bregar.

The morning "headfake" and subsequent recovery suggests "a lot of people aren't making money today, they're just trying to curb losses," Bregar said in an interview. 

The S&P/TSX composite index closed down 91.69 points to 20,602.10 after losing as much as 138.68 points in earlier trading.

In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average was down 63.07 points at 34,751.32. The S&P 500 index was down 6.95 points at 4,473.75, while the Nasdaq composite was up 20.39 points at 15,181.92. 

Thursday's early losses came even though U.S. retail sales data exceeded expectations, rising 0.7 per cent, compared with the forecasted 0.7 per cent contraction due to the impact of the Delta variant.

The stock market fell after bond yields spiked in response to the retail sales numbers.

It was followed by slightly weaker jobless numbers in which the number of first-time jobless claims increased by 20,000 from a pandemic low to reach 332,000.

Bregar described the number as "a bit of a wash."

He added that weak data in Canada, such as a 2.1 per cent drop in wholesale trade in July from the prior month and housing starts falling 3.9 per cent in August compared to July, failed to have much impact on the loonie.

It was relatively flat as crude oil prices were steady after hitting a six-week high midweek.

The Canadian dollar traded for 78.90 cents US compared with 79.05 cents US on Wednesday. 

Bregar said investors might have taken the retail sales numbers as a sign that maybe the Federal Reserve's taper plans are back in play for next week's meeting.

"Hence the spike in yields, drop in stocks, but I still have a feeling the markets can't really make up its mind here," he said.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we see more choppiness into tomorrow, but overall it's been a very choppy week and I think we're going to need the FOMC meeting to give us a little bit more of a directional bias."

September has historically been a difficult month driven by losses in the second half of the month.

The TSX is marginally higher so far in September while U.S. markets are down. Still, North American markets are up just short of 20 per cent for the year.

Materials was the biggest laggard on the day, losing three per cent as gold and copper prices were down, prompting shares of Endeavour Silver Corp. and Oceanagold Corp. to decrease 6.6 and 6.3 per cent, respectively.

The December gold contract was down US$38.10 at US$1,756.70 an ounce and the December copper contract was down 12.5 cents at US$4.28 a pound. 

Energy was also lower even though crude oil prices were flat as Crescent Point Energy Corp. lost 4.9 per cent.

The October crude oil contract was unchanged at US$72.61 per barrel and the October natural gas contract was down 12.5 cents at US$5.34 per mmBTU. 

Four sectors were slightly higher on the day, including technology.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 16, 2021. 

Companies in this story: (TSX:CPG, TSX:EDR, TSX:OGC, TSX:GSPTSE, TSX:CADUSD=X) 

Ross Marowits, The Canadian Press