The Australian sharemarket struggled to a fresh six-year closing high after spot iron ore dropped to the lowest level this year and the US S&P 500 index reached a record high on low volumes, signalling lack of buyer conviction.

The S&P/ASX 200 index traded in a tight range and closed 13.6 points, or 0.24 per cent, up at 5651.2 after data showed a 1.2 per cent decline in construction work done in the June-quarter, more than double the 0.5 per cent decline forecast.

"In 2014, the construction sector is feeling the impacts of cross currents," Westpac economist Andrew Hanlan said. "Private building work is trending higher, boosted by record low interest rates, while private infrastructure activity is turning down, from record highs, as the mining investment boom deflates. Public works are in a soft spot at present, ahead of a ramp-up on major transport projects."

The Australian dollar bounced US0.3¢ to US93.20¢ and government 10-year yields slipped 1.2 points to 3.341 per cent.

The Shanghai composite index and Japan's Nikkei index were both slightly firmer at the close of the ASX.

Spot iron ore slipped 0.3 per cent to $US88.90 a tonne and Dalian iron ore futures were down 0.7 per cent today.

Overnight the S&P 500 closed rallied early but faded to close at 2000.02 on the lowest non-holiday volume of the year, despite mostly firmer US data. US durable goods orders leapt 22 per cent on an unexpected surge in demand for aircraft following the Farnborough air show, but the headline number masked a 0.8 per cent decline on non-transport goods.

Consumer confidence and the Richmond Fed activity index both firmed but the Case-Shiller 20-City house price index slipped 0.2 per cent month-on-month.

US benchmark 10-year yields rose one point to 2.39 per cent.

Copper slipped 0.7 per cent to $US7040 a tonne and gold reversed a one per cent rally to $US1291 an ounce to trade marginally higher at $US1283/oz.

100 Doors managing partner Peter Esho said positive sentiment from the S&P 500 being at an all-time high had flowed through to the local bourse.

"That's a major stimulatory element, I think, so our market is grinding higher," Mr Esho said.

"Along with that, reporting season (company financial results) has been positive on balance, so there's no real reasons to be negative."

Mr Esho said, however, that overall market gains on Wednesday were slight given that the soft iron ore price was still weighing upon the big miners and constraining any share price increases.

In the resources sector, global miner BHP Billiton was up 11 cents at $37.33, Rio Tinto firmed two cents to $64.13, and Fortescue Metals improved three cents to $4.31, according to preliminary closing figures.

Among the major banks, Commonwealth Bank rose 38 cents to $81.12, Westpac gained 21 cents at $35.12, ANZ lifted 24 cents to $33.54, and National Australia Bank was 24 cents richer at $34.80.

Telstra, which traded ex-dividend on Wednesday, was down 21 cents, or 3.66 per cent, at $5.53.

Seven West Media was 3.5 cents lower at $1.985. It posted a $149.2 million profit for 2013/14 helped by cost cuts and improved television earnings, which helped it turn around its $70 million loss a year earlier Kerry Stokes-led Seven Group Holdings dropped four cents to $7.53, after falling commodities prices hammered its annual profit, which fell 46 per cent to $261.1 million.

Building products maker Boral jumped 24 cents to $5.63 after returning to profitability. Flight Centre descended 41 cents to $47.02 after its profit fell 16 per cent. Property developer Lend Lease gained 20 cents at $13.95, after increasing its full year profit by nearly 50 per cent.

The broader All Ordinaries index was up 14.4 points, or 0.26 per cent, at 5,648.9 points.

The September share price index futures contract was up 32 points at 5,628 points, with 21,230 contracts traded.

Preliminary national turnover was 1.97 billion securities worth $4.79 billion.

The West Australian

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