By John Tilak
TORONTO (Reuters) - Canada's main stock index eased to its first loss in two weeks on Friday as declining bank stocks offset gains in telecom and resource-related companies.
Earlier in the day the index had touched its highest point in nearly three years as bullish U.S. data showing that manufacturing activity recorded its fastest growth in nearly four years in February helped drive gains.
The index also got a lift from fertilizer maker Agrium Inc , whose shares jumped a day after the company reported quarterly results.
Adding to the upward momentum, telecom companies Telus Corp and BCE Inc got a bounce a day after it was revealed they paid much less than rival Rogers Communications Inc in a government auction of wireless airwaves.
Telus was up 2.2 percent at C$38.78, and BCE added 0.5 percent to C$47.82.
But after 12 sessions of gains, the market ended up taking a breather. Bank of Nova Scotia was the single biggest weight on the index, down 1 percent at C$63.32. Royal Bank of Canada, the country's largest lender, slipped 0.3 percent to
"We're getting a little overbought. I wouldn't be surprised if the market paused here a little bit," said Rick Hutcheon, chief investment officer at RKH Financial, adding that the overall outlook still looks positive.
The Toronto Stock Exchange's S&P/TSX composite index <.GSPTSE> ended down 4.65 points, or 0.03 percent, at 14,205.72. It gained 1.1 percent on the week, its third straight weekly gain.
"The market is coming to the realization that things are trending well in the U.S.," said Patrick Blais, a portfolio manager and managing director at Manulife Asset Management. "People are seeing that things are progressing in the right direction."
Blais said he expects the TSX to end the year about 5 to 10 percent higher than current levels.
The recent rally has been fueled by a jump in materials shares, which have rebounded sharply after a major selloff last year.
In the materials group on Friday, Agrium rose 2.2 percent to C$100.80. The company reported a 72 percent decline in quarterly profit on Thursday, but its results were in line with market expectations.
Overall, the materials sector, which includes mining stocks, slipped 0.1 percent on Friday. First Quantum Minerals Ltd lost 1.8 percent to C$21.21, after the miner reported a lower quarterly profit on Thursday due to weaker metals prices.
Energy shares advanced despite weaker oil prices. Canadian Natural Resources Ltd was up 0.6 percent at C$41.15.
(Additional reporting by Rod Nickel and Alastair Sharp; Editing by Peter Galloway)