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The ASX has closed slightly higher. Picture: Reuters.
The ASX has closed slightly higher. Picture: Reuters.

The Australian sharemarket finished a lacklustre session firmer on low volumes as global investors waited on the sidelines for US non-farm payroll data tonight for evidence of a post-winter recovery.

Following the flat lead from Wall Street last night the S&P/ASX 200 index traded in a tight range in and out of the red before closing 9.3 points, or 0.17 per cent, up at 5458.1.

The uneasy calm was ensured by the closure of Chinese markets for a public holiday, but a shortfall on the consensus expectation for a 218,000 increase in US jobs will prove a significant hit to bullish sentiment.

In Tokyo the Nikkei index was off 0.2 per cent.

The Australian dollar was also little changed at US92.80, but government 10-year yields fell 3.5 points to a seven-month low of 3.905 per cent.

US data last night was mixed, but US treasury 10-year yields tumbled 7 points to 2.59 per cent, critical technical support, as personal spending rose 0.9 per cent in March but the savings rate fell to the lowest level since 2008.

The US ISM manufacturing index rose but the dismal March-quarter GDP growth of just 0.1 per cent was expected to be cut further following the release of construction spending growth of just 0.2 per cent in March, well short of forecasts and actual data used in the GDP calculation.

ANZ strategist Kerry Duce wrote in a client note that the ANZ global leading index eased further in April, but they considered the “loss of momentum” as fairly advanced.

“Tentative signs are emerging that a base in downwards momentum could form by around (September-quarter) 2014, led by the US and possibly China,” he said.

“The gap between the sharp decline in the ANZ inventory pulse and still-buoyant ANZ risk appetite suggests that liquidity continues to allow markets to look through cycle weakness, including for emerging markets.”

Gold was steady at $US1283 an ounce and copper was little changed at $US6615 a tonne.

OptionsXpress market analyst Ben Le Brun said trading volumes had been weak on the local bourse ahead of those figures.

“It’s a very lacklustre day as we expected from the start given that we’ve got non-farm payrolls out of the US tonight,” he said.

Investors were sitting on the sidelines as the doubts about value in the banking sector, a drop in the iron ore price and soft retail sales from Wesfarmers, Woolworths and Myer had generated some negativity this week, Mr Le Brun said.

A good financial result from Westpac on Monday could help improve sentiment, he said.

Among the major banks, ANZ lifted 27 cents to $34.34, Commonwealth Bank gained 50 cents to $79.14, Westpac advanced 17 cents to $34.87, but National Australia Bank fell 15 cents to $34.56.

Investment bank Macquarie Group firmed 50 cents to $58.70 after its full year profit grew by 49 per cent.

In the resources sector, BHP Billiton dropped 23 cents to $37.27, Rio Tinto lifted 19 cents to $60.98, and Fortescue Metals found six cents at $4.91.

Retailer Myer was five cents weaker at $2.12 after a steady third quarter sales performance.

Winemaker Treasury Wine Estates’ shares surged by 25 cents to $4.09 on speculation of interest in its US assets from Pernod Ricard.

The broader All Ordinaries index was up 8.4 points, or 0.15 per cent, at 5438.8 points.

On the ASX 24, at 2.24pm, the June share price index futures contract was four points higher at 5438 points, with 20,457 contracts traded.

National turnover was 1.6 billion securities worth $3.25 billion.


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