Canada’s main stock index struggled to crawl out of the red on Thursday, with the energy sector leading decliners.

The price of crude oil fell back blow US$80 a barrel, its lowest level in three weeks. A stronger U.S. dollar combined with rate hike expectations put more downward pressure on oil prices.

Losses in metals and gold stocks overcame strength in industrial and health care shares.

Officials from the U.S. Federal Reserve made their rounds, commenting on growth prospects for corporate spending and the economy. Traders were watching for clues about their strategy around future monetary policy, expecting a 25-basis-point rate hike in May.

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S&P 5004,120.84-33.68S&P 500

The Canadian dollar traded for 74.21 cents U.S., compared to 74.29 cents U.S. on Wednesday.

U.S. crude futures traded $1.87 lower at $77.29 a barrel, and the Brent contract lost $2.02 to $81.10 a barrel.

The price of gold was up US$12.45 to US$2,006.12.

In world markets, the Nikkei was up 50.81 points to 28,657.57, the Hang Seng was up 29.21 points to 20,396.97, the FTSE was up 3.84 points to 7,902.61, but the DAX was down 99.23 points to 15,795.97.

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