Regina Leader-Post



TORONTO • North American markets racked up sharp losses Tuesday amid growing concern that the U.S. Federal Reserve could move sooner than thought on hiking interest rates.

The S&P/TSX composite index tumbled 212.73 points to 14,641.76 — leaving the Toronto index about where it started the year — amid a drop in resource stocks as a stronger U.S. dollar pressured commoditie­s.

New York’s Dow Jones industrial average plunged 332.78 points to 17,662.94, while Nasdaq fell 82.64 points to 4,859.80. The S&P 500 index dropped 35.27 points to 2,044.16.

The Canadian dollar lost US0.53¢ to US78.86¢.

The U.S. dollar hit multi-year highs against a variety of currencies amid the latest round of Fed nervousnes­s that started Friday with the release of a better-thanexpect­ed U.S. jobs report for February.

Ultra-low interest rates and other monetary stimulus have benefited stock markets for several years as investors sought higher returns. But a return to more normal levels for interest rates in the world’s biggest economy might spell an end to the bull market for stocks, which has been ongoing for six years.

The concern about an early hike in U.S. interest rates picked up Monday night after Dallas Federal Reserve Bank president Richard Fisher said policy-makers should move sooner and slower rather than later and faster.

Markets could get more clarity on Fed intentions when the central bank holds its next interest rate meeting next week. The Fed has kept rates near zero since the 2008 financial collapse.

“It’s all about the messaging,” said Brian Belski, chief investment strategist at BMO Capital Markets.

“The (Fed) has declared they’re going to be data dependent, and I think what’s happening is they’re worried about the potential of the reaction of the stock market. The prevailing trend in the last 15 years has been lower rates, quantitati­ve easing, a lower U.S dollar — it’s a pretty big sea change.”

Meanwhile, the stronger U.S. dollar helped push the April crude oil contract in New York down US$1.71 to US$48.29 a barrel and the energy sector backed off 1.35%.

A stronger greenback makes U.S. dollar denominate­d commoditie­s more expensive for holders of other currencies.

Oil prices were also squeezed by an upward revision to U.S. crude oil production and signs that the Organizati­on of Petroleum Exporting Countries will maintain production at current levels.

The U.S. Energy Informatio­n Agency said on Tuesday it expects total oil production in 2015 to be 9.35 million barrels per day, slightly higher than the 9.3 million figure in last month’s short-term energy outlook.

The base metals component fell 3.4% as May copper fell US5¢ to US$2.62 a pound.

Financials were also a major weight, down 1.7%.

The gold sector faded 1.3% while April gold was US$6.30 lower to US$1,160.10 an ounce.

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