TORONTO — North American stock indexes finished the day with minor losses Wednesday, after another seesawing, high-volume trading amid easing volatility and slumping oil prices.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index was down 33.35 points, or 0.22 per cent, to 15,330.58 — about the same amount it rose at the opening of markets — with the influential energy and materials sectors leading decliners.
In New York, the Dow Jones industrial average fell 19.42 points, or 0.08 per cent, to 24,893.35, after moving up more than 326 points earlier in the session.
Meanwhile, the S&P 500 index was down 13.48 points, or 0.50 per cent, to 2,681.66, and the Nasdaq composite index declined 63.90 points, or 0.90 per cent, to 7,051.98. Like the Dow, these indexes had a bobbing day of gains and losses.
The losses in the U.S. came a day after markets swung wildly, but finished higher following their biggest percentage decline since August 2011 on Monday. The Dow plunged 1,175 points Monday, and after a wild day Tuesday, wound up with a gain of 567 points.
"I think we have to look towards stock bargain hunters for yesterday's moves as many came out looking to pick up cheap stocks after the last few days of downside," said James Hughes, chief market analyst with AxiTrader.
While markets have steadied somewhat after three days of tumult, investors are still far more nervous than they were just a few days ago.
The VIX index — which is called Wall Street's "fear gauge" because it measures how much volatility investors expect in the future — was at 25 shortly after markets closed, about double where it was two weeks ago. It spiked above 50 early Tuesday.
"Volatility is a little more muted today, but by any measure it's still really high," said Michael Currie, vice-president of TD Wealth Private Investment Advice. "We've gone from crazy high to really high."
Stocks began to fall last Friday after U.S. jobs data showed wages growing more than anticipated, raising worries that creeping signs of higher inflation might push the U.S. Federal Reserve to increase interest rates more quickly.
On Tuesday, St. Louis Federal Reserve president James Bullard tried to talk down inflation concerns a bit, saying that he cautioned "against interpreting good news from labour markets as translating directly into higher inflation." Dallas Federal Reserve president Robert Kaplan said Wednesday that the stock market correction is a healthy one.
In currency markets, the Canadian dollar slowed its pace of weakening against the greenback. It closed at an average trading value of 79.71, down 0.10 of a U.S. cent. The loonie has slipped 1.67 cents U.S. since Thursday as jittery investors turn to the U.S. dollar as a safe haven in times of distress.
Falling oil prices are also tied to the downward pressure on the loonie, noted Currie, as investors weigh concerns that OPEC and Russia might start to question their commitment to prolonging crude output cuts until the end of this year.
The March crude contract was down US$1.60 to US$61.79 per barrel and the March natural gas contract was down six cents to US$2.70 per mmBTU.
Elsewhere in commodities, the April gold contract was down US$14.90 to US$1,314.60 an ounce and the March copper contract was down 10 cents to US$3.09 a pound.
Precious metals prices climbed in December and January and have decreased over the last few days.
— With files from The Associated Press.
David Hodges, The Canadian Press