Aust stocks close 0.9% weaker

The Australian stockmarket closed over 0.9 per cent lower after the iron ore price fell and Chinese data printed weaker than expected, hitting the resources sector.

The Australian stockmarket closed over 0.9 per cent lower after the iron ore price fell and Chinese data printed weaker than expected, hitting the resources sector.

At 4.15pm (AEDT), the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index was 0.93 per cent lower at 5,411.5 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index fell 0.84 per cent to 5,430.8 points.

Official data released this weekend showed China posted an unexpected trade deficit of $US22.98 billion ($A25.32bn) in February, compared with a $US148.bn surplus in the same month last year.

The iron ore price fell to $US114.20 at the close of last week, down 2.3 per cent from the previous day.

IG market strategist Stan Shamu said the fall in iron ore has rocked confidence in Asia.

"Today was the first chance investors had to react to China data released over the weekend which exposed volatility in China’s export growth yet again," Mr Shamu said.

"The selling actually accelerated as soon as Chinese markets came on line with sharp drops for the Shanghai Composite and Hang Seng.

"Pure iron ore plays are the worst hit, with sharp drops for the likes of Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals."

Materials were mostly lower as the iron ore price dropped and China posted an unexpected trade deficit.

BHP Billiton lost 4.14 per cent to $36.16, while rival Rio Tinto shed 5.76 per cent to $61.20.

Fortescue Metals slumped 9.39 per cent to $4.92, while Newcrest fell 4.08 per cent to $11.51.

Whitehaven Coal shed 5.11 per cent to $1.765.

Oil Search retreated 0.56 per cent to $8.84.

Santos fell 1.75 per cent to $14.07 and Woodside Petroleum rose 0.13 per cent to $38.71.

Financials were also weaker.

ANZ retreated 0.83 per cent to $32.31 and Commonwealth Bank fell 0.33 per cent to $75.75.

National Australia Bank declined 0.26 per cent to $34.65, while Westpac lost 0.38 per cent to $33.77.

Investment bank Macquarie Group shed 0.42 per cent to $56.60.

In insurance, QBE fell 0.79 per cent to $12.62, while IAG retreated 0.55 per cent to $5.41 andSuncorp fell 0.08 per cent to $12.42.

The retail sector was mostly higher.

Woolworths rose 0.83 per cent to $36.66, while Wesfarmers rose 0.44 per cent to $43.60.

Myer was flat at $2.79, while rival David Jones retreated 0.88 per cent to $3.38.

Harvey Norman rallied 2.42 per cent to $3.39 while JB Hi-Fi rose 0.61 per cent to $19.81.

In media, Fairfax Media was flat at 98.5c and News Corp fell 0.86 per cent to $19.51.

21st Century Fox gave up 0.65 per cent to $36.51.

Ten Network fell 1.41 per cent to 35c, while Seven West added 1.4 per cent to $2.17.

Southern Cross Media added 2.13 per cent to $1.44.

Telstra shed 0.79 per cent to $5.03, while Qantas fell 1.75 per cent to $1.12.

Leighton soared 11.44 per cent to $23.09 after majority shareholder Hochtief launched a bid to lift its holding.