Canada's main stock market in Toronto dipped lower Wednesday when some Canadian oil and gas companies are curtailing production at their facilities north of Fort McMurray amid the raging wildfire in the northern Alberta area.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's benchmark Standard & Poor's/TSX Composite Index lost 75.68 points, or 0.55 percent, to close at 13,632.00 points. Half of the TSX index's eight main sub-sectors were lower.
Prospects for curtailed production as a result of Fort McMurray fires was being closely watched by traders, who drove up prices after two days of losses.
Oil prices traded mixed on Wednesday as data showed U.S. crude inventories continued to rise. Texas light sweet crude for June delivery moved up 0.13 dollars to settle at 43.65 dollars a barrel, while Brent crude for June delivery declined 0.35 dollars to close at 44.62 dollars a barrel.
Operations at oil sands facilities near the wildfire that has put Fort McMurray under an evacuation order are safe from the flames for now, but nearby work camps being converted into housing for evacuees.
As emergency fire crews work to contain the wildfire, which has already destroyed nearly 100 square kilometers and displaced over 88,000 people. Oilsands operators said Wednesday the fire doesn't pose an imminent threat, but they are taking every precaution and helping where they can.
Suncor Energy Inc. said it is reducing production at its regional facilities so as "to allow employees and their families to get to safety." Suncor shares fell 2.20 percent to 34.18 Canadian dollars (26.56 U.S. dollars).
Early Wednesday, Suncor said its base plant, its main oil sands site, is still in safe condition. The company said it is coordinating the shift requirements at the facility about 25 kilometres north of Fort McMurray for immediate needs only.
Investors are waiting for more information on how much Suncor is curtailing operations, and whether other companies in the oil sands region will join it. "If more companies say they are shutting down production, the market will continue to get a boost from it," said Gene McGillian, analyst with Tradition Energy of Stamford.
Shell Canada has shut down production at its Albion Sands mining operations, which can produce up to 255,000 barrels per day, so it can concentrate on getting families out of the region, a company spokesman said in an e-mail message. The Albion operations are not threatened by the fire, he said.
Operations of Husky Energy Inc. north of the city, the Sunrise Energy Project, are unaffected. Husky shares went up 1.11 percent to 15.44 Canadian dollars.
Imperial Oil Ltd. said there are no direct impacts to its Kearl oil sands mining operation at this time. However, the company has cut staffing levels to essential personnel only. Its shares added 0.10 percent to 40.37 percent.
"Give a thought today to the poor people of Fort McMurray, not only has their economy been devastated by the drop in the oil price, but now 80,000 people have been evacuated from their homes because of the fire, hopefully it will be put out soon and they can recover quickly," said Michael J Smith, a Toronto currency expert at AFEX, a global non-bank provider of foreign currency services.
In other sectors, Shopify Inc., a maker of software that helps retailers set up and manage online stores, said its loss widened in the first quarter from the fourth quarter as operating expenses rose. Shopify shares shed 2.55 percent to 38.19 Canadian dollars.
Maple Leaf Foods Inc. reported a first-quarter profit, compared with a year-ago loss, helped by higher earnings in its meat products business. Maple Leaf shares climbed 6.82 percent 28.03 Canadian dollars.
On the economic slate, Statistics Canada reported that exports fell 4.8 percent to 41 billion Canadian dollars in March, while imports dipped 2.4 percent to 44.4 billion Canadian dollars. As a result, Canada's trade deficit with the rest of the world widened from 2.5 billion Canadian dollars in February to a record 3.4 billion Canadian dollars in March.
The Canadian dollar traded lower at 0.7770 U.S. dollar, compared with Tuesday's closing rate of 0.7866 U.S. dollar.