The Australian sharemarket closed in the red as improved Chinese trade data for October was offset by a fall in Chinese new loans and concerns over Greece’s ability to meet a €5 billion debt repayment this week.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 14 points, or 0.32 per cent, down at 4448 points as an 8.6 per cent surge in investment mortgage lending supported domestic sentiment.
However, keeping markets in check, the US budget talks begin this week with President Barack Obama insisting on higher taxes for those earning more than $US250,000 a year and Republican speaker John Boehner saying they were off limits.
Markets are also keeping a nervous eye on the European finance minister’s meeting tonight to see if they approve the release of 31.5 billion euro bailout funds to Greece or an emergency allotment to help the struggling nation repay a 5 billion euro bond redemption on Friday.
In Japan the Nikkei index lost 0.7 per cent after data showed the Japanese economy contracted 0.9 per cent in the September-quarter.
The Shanghai composite index was up 0.1 per cent at the close of the ASX, with the $30 billion trade surplus at a four year high overshadowed by a 14 per cent drop in new loans in October that signalled weak internal demand.
“October’s stronger-than-expected exports growth was likely due to the seasonal pick-up of Christmas orders and better-than-expected US demand, besides the boost from a favourable base effect,” HSBC China economist Qu Hongbin said.
“But the negative seasonally adjusted month on month growth rate (following a short-lived expansion in September) suggests the strength of external demand was not strong as the annual growth rate suggests.”
The Australian dollar again bounced from $US1.0380 to $US1.0420 as the Chinese data showed a 13 per cent gain in iron ore imports.
“China growth may have troughed, but the presumption that this translates into stronger demand for Australian resources exports or higher resource prices is not yet proven,” National Australia Bank global head of currency strategy Ray Attrill said.
Gold was steady at $US1734 an ounce and copper fell 0.3 per cent to a near 10-week low of $US7550 a tonne.
The broader All Ordinaries index had fallen 12.56 points, or 0.28 per cent, to 4469.9 points.
On the ASX 24, the December share price index futures contract was 23 points lower at 4461 points, on volume of 24,897 contracts.
CMC Markets senior trader Tim Waterer said conjecture surrounding the US fiscal cliff kept positive sentiment in check.
“Investors remain consumed by US fiscal cliff consequences,” Mr Waterer said in a research note.
Among the big miners BHP Billiton was down 16 cents at $34.30, while Rio Tinto had fallen five cents to $58.64.
The worst-performing sector on the market was energy stocks, which fell 1.07 per cent according to IRESS data.
Gold stocks (down 0.67 per cent) and industrials (down 0.65 per cent) also had a negative day.
The materials sector, a big part of the market, ended 0.61 per cent weaker.
Making news, insurance giant QBE said it expected its losses up to $US450 million ($A434.85 million) from super storm Sandy in the United States.
QBE shares dived $1.07, or 8.31 per cent, to $11.80.In percentage terms QBE was the worst-performing stock on the S&P/ASX50.
"This latest downgrade is going to dent confidence in QBE,” IG Markets strategist Stan Shamu said in a research note.
"This is not the first time QBE has issued a significant downgrade and investors will grow increasingly wary of insurers after a bad run."
Chemicals manufacturer Orica said net profit for fiscal 2012 fell 37 per cent to $402.8 million, after a previously announced $247 million impairment on its specialty bolts and chemicals business Minova.
Orica fell 99 cents, or 3.96 per cent, to $24.01.
The big four retail banks finished mixed.
ANZ was down 11.5 cents at $24.45 and National Australia Bank slipped 17 cents to $23.64, while Westpac added 18 cents to $25.35 and Commonwealth Bank put on 58 cents to $59.40.
Preliminary national turnover was 1.45 billion securities worth $3.94 billion, with 394 stocks up, 510 down and 400 unchanged.