By John Tilak
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index declined on Thursday as concerns about instability in Ukraine helped offset gains in shares of Canadian Natural Resources Ltd and the materials sector after the prices of some commodities rose.
A U.S. government report showed that the number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment benefits dropped to a three-month low last week. Investors saw that as a positive signal ahead of Friday's U.S. nonfarm payrolls report.
The market also digested news of Crimea's parliament voting to join Russia and its Moscow-backed government setting a referendum on the decision within 10 days.
The Toronto market, which is up about 4.8 percent this year, took a bit of a breather after three straight daily gains.
"I'm looking at a market that is very comfortable where it is," said Fred Ketchen, director of equity trading at ScotiaMcLeod. "We're sitting in quite a good spot, and most investors seem to be satisfied."
"As long as things stay economically where they are, we will have modest growth in our market," he said, adding that he expects the TSX to end the year at the 15,000 mark.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index <.GSPTSE> closed down 32.25 points, or 0.23 percent, at 14,271.92. Five of the 10 main sectors on the index were in the red.
Financials, the index's most heavily weighted sector, declined. Royal Bank of Canada gave back 0.7 percent to C$71.87, and Bank of Montreal lost 0.4 percent to C$72.29.
The materials sector, which includes mining stocks, showed the strongest gain, rising 0.6 percent.
Potash Corp added 0.8 percent to C$38.70, and Teck Resources Ltd climbed 2.7 percent to C$25.26.
In corporate news, oil producer Canadian Natural reported a rise in quarterly profit, and the stock advanced 0.3 percent to C$40.81.
SNC-Lavalin Group Inc's shares dropped 4.1 percent, to C$46.39, after the company reported fourth-quarter earnings and forecast a profit for 2014 that missed market expectations.
(Editing by Meredith Mazzilli and Chizu Nomiyama)