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North American markets split as fiscal cliff looms, commodities mostly higher

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TORONTO - North American markets diverged on Monday as the Toronto Stock Exchange moved lower on widespread weakness across major sectors while Wall Street got a boost on encouraging signs from talks to resolve the "fiscal cliff" stalemate in Washington.

The S&P/TSX composite index fell 15.37 points to close at 12,281.35, while the TSX Venture Exchange inched ahead 1.37 points to 1,184.99.

The Canadian dollar was up 0.29 of a cent to 101.66 cents US.

TSX energy stocks were down 0.2 per cent as the January crude contract on the New York Mercantile Exchange rose 47 cents to close at US$87.20 a barrel.

March copper declined 1.7 cents to US$3.67 a pound while February gold bullion lifted $1.20 to US$1,698.20 an ounce.

House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner reportedly told President Barack Obama on the weekend that he could be flexible on raising taxes on some wealthy earners in exchange for cuts to benefit programs cherished by Democrats. The speaker and the president met at the White House on Monday to discuss the pending fiscal cliff and deficit reduction.

On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrials gained 100.38 points to end at 13,235.39 and the Nasdaq rose 39.27 points to 3,010.60. The S&P 500 index was up 16.78 points at 1,430.36.

If congressional Republicans and the White House can't reach a deal by Jan. 1, tax cuts enacted a decade ago for all Americans will expire and government programs will be cut across the board. The combination could lead to a U.S. recession that could spread to other economies of the world.

"Any possibility of a resolution probably gives you a little green. If somebody comes up and says, 'We haven't really progressed much,' we'll see it going the other way," said Adrian Mastracci, the portfolio manager of KCM Wealth Management in Vancouver.

"As far as investing goes, we have to get past that."

Meanwhile, a survey of top U.S. business economists released Monday by the National Association for Business Economics showed that most believe that modest growth will be ongoing in 2013, led by rising demand for housing.

Based on the survey, NABE sees economic growth of 2.1 per cent after 2.2 per cent growth in 2012.

In Canada, the real-estate industry's main association released a revised forecast for 2012 housing resales. The Canadian Real Estate Association now projects 456,300 units will be sold in 2012, half a percentage point below last year's level. The Canadian national average home price is projected to rise by 0.3 per cent to $363,900 in 2012, down from CREA's September forecast of $365,000, up 0.6 per cent.

In corporate developments, copper miner Inmet Mining Corp. (TSX:IMN) says it has yet to receive the increased $5.1-billion takeover bid that was announced by First Quantum Minerals Ltd. (TSX:FM) on Sunday. Inmet is urging shareholders to withhold taking action until it can evaluate the details. Inmet shares rose four per cent to $72.85.

TSX financial stocks dropped 0.5 per cent.

Sun Life Financial (TSX:SLF) said it has agreed to sell its U.S. annuity unit and certain life insurance businesses for US$1.35 billion to Delaware Life Holdings, a company owned by shareholders of Guggenheim Partners. Sun Life shares dropped $1.09 to $26.74.

Shares of Research In Motion (TSX:RIM) were down after the company said its new BlackBerry 10 operating system is undergoing a invitation-only user testing at 120 select government and private-sector customers across various industries. The company's stock was down 22 cents to $13.66.

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