The Australian sharemarket clawed its way out of the red on low volume as market attention switched to tonight's US payroll data for a buying catalyst.

The offshore lead was flat after the European Central Bank again failed to act to stimulate growth, prompting the S&P/ASX 200 to slip 0.2 per cent in early trade.

But it closed 12.9 points, or 0.24 per cent, at 5422.8 as lingering uncertainty over Chinese, European and US growth kept buying interest low.

Supporting domestic stocks, the Shanghai composite index was up 0.4 per cent at the close of the ASX. In Tokyo the Nikkei index was down 0.2 per cent.

The ECB left rates on hold but European and US stocks were initially boosted by the prospect of quantitative easing in the eurozone. Rallies on both sides of the Atlantic fizzled to leave most markets little changed

ECB president Mario Draghi said there had been some discussion about QE but there were "different preferences about which QE would be more effective" amongst ECB members.

"The ECB has consistently highlighted its belief that it does not see deflationary threats, and Draghi still expects that inflation will pick up in April," National Australia Bank economist Spiros Papadopoulos said.

"But his comments make it clear that the ECB is now ready to step into uncharted waters if inflation continues to disappoint."

The Australian dollar was little changed at US92.35 cents but the euro lost ground against the US dollar. Government 10-year yields slipped 3 points to 4.153 per cent.

Gold lost $US5 to $US1285 an ounce, copper was flat at $US6660 a tonne and spot iron ore firmed 0.1 per cent to $US115.50 a tonne.

The West Australian

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