The Australian sharemarket edged higher but conviction was lacking after China revealed an underwhelming stimulus plan and domestic data dented the optimistic outlook.

Following the firmer lead on Wall Street, the S&P/ASX 200 index traded in a tight range to close 6.6 points, or 0.12 per cent, up to 5409.9 as a fall in China's non-manufacturing index undermined the mini-stimulus news.

On the domestic front, the AiG performance of services index slumped 6.5 points to 48.9 points, while retail sales growth slowed to just 0.2 per cent in February from the 1.2 per cent in January. On the upside, the trade surplus of $1.2 billion declined $192 million but still beat forecast for an $800 million increase.

"Shifting seasonal spending patterns are most likely the culprit behind the strong Jan/soft Feb readings," Westpac economist Matthew Hassan said. "The upshot is that retail sales growth momentum continues to hover around a 0.7 per cent a month, although looking through the January-February noise there are some hints of a moderation."

The Shanghai composite index was off 0.2 per cent at the close of the ASX after China outlined a package of measures including railway spending and tax relief to support the economy, create jobs and sell $27 billion of bonds to help build railways.

The HSBC China services index rose 0.9 points to 51.9 points but the composite index fell deeper into the contraction zone to a 28-month low of 49.3 points.

In Tokyo the Nikkei index was up 1.1 per cent.

The Australian dollar lost US0.2¢ to US92.20¢ as the US dollar rallied overnight following a solid ADP private payrolls report that indicated US Federal Reserve tapering of its bond buying program remained on track to expire in October.

Last night on Wall Street the S&P500 index rose 0.3 per cent to a record high and US treasury 10-year yields jumped 5 points to 2.80 per cent.

The West Australian

Popular videos

Our Picks

Follow Us

More from The West