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Canadian dollar lower amid bigger than expected retail sales slide in December

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TORONTO - The Canadian dollar closed lower Friday amid data showing a bigger than expected drop in December retail sales and tame inflation.

The loonie was down 0.28 of a cent to 89.82 cents US as Statistics Canada reported that December retail sales tumbled 1.8 per cent from November. Economists had expected a drop of just 0.4 per cent.

However, the currency was off its worst levels of the session as the agency also reported that the consumer price index was up 1.5 per cent in January compared with a year earlier. That was slightly higher than the 1.3 per cent rise economists had expected but below the Bank of Canada's target of two per cent.

The data served to indicate to markets that the Bank of Canada won't be moving on rates until at least a year from now.

"We remain confident that the most likely path for inflation is a gradual shift towards the (central bank's) two per cent target," said TD Economics senior economist Francis Fong.

"As such, we maintain our view that the bank will likely remain on hold until at least the second half of 2015 before moving off the sidelines."

The dollar had a rough week, sliding about 1.25 cents US.

Analysts point to recent soft data, concerns over the global growth outlook — China's in particular — a dovish tone on interest rates from the Bank of Canada and a potential delay in the Keystone XL pipeline decision.

Elsewhere, there was also a commitment by Japan's central bank to carry on with its extensive stimulus package longer than planned.

The Bank of Japan’s minutes of its January policy meeting were released Friday. Board members said that in order to avoid any misunderstanding about the BOJ’s program of ambitious monetary easing, the bank needed to "provide a clear explanation that it did not strictly set this to end in two years.”

As part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic revival strategy, the central bank in April last year announced a policy overhaul that aimed to double the money supply and achieve two per cent inflation within about two years.

The April crude contract in New York declined 55 cents to US$102.21 a barrel.

March copper was ahead one cent at US$3.29 a pound while April gold bullion gained $6.70 to US$1,323.60 an ounce.

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