THE sharemarket has closed lower, dragged down by the mining sector, with limited overseas leads as major Asian markets close for Lunar New Year holidays.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 finished at the day's low, down 11.8 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4959.5, while the broader All Ordinaries lost 9.1 points, or 0.2 per cent, to 4980.3.
Markets closed for the Lunar New Year holidays included Japan, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.
After a major surge on the market in 2013 so far, a spotlight is being placed squarely on earnings season in an attempt to validate the strong run.
"People start saying, 'Well there's momentum building, let me get on that horse and give it a ride, too.' I still believe that if there is going to be a sustained run-up there needs evidence out there that it's justified, and key justification is profits," said Patersons Securities strategist Tony Farnham.
Reporting on Monday, JB Hi-Fi announced its first-half net profit rose 3 per cent to $82 million. This caused the stock to soar 17.1 per cent to $12.89, the highest since December 2011.
Other retailers jumped on the JB Hi-Fi bandwagon, with Harvey Norman adding 6.8 per cent to $2.33, Myer gaining 3.1 per cent to $2.67 and David Jones rising 3 per cent to $2.70.
Mr Farnham said investors would have to wait for other retailers to report before it became clear whether the improvement was across the retail sector or a sign that JB Hi-Fi was beginning to get the best of its competitors.
Despite securing a win in its long-running legal battle with Fortescue Metals over the use of its rail lines in the Pilbara, Rio Tinto failed to gain much ground, adding just 0.2 per cent to $69.45.
Rio will report its earnings on Thursday. On the other side of the decision, Fortescue rose 1.2 per cent to $5.
The banks were mixed, with ANZ the biggest mover, falling 1.2 per cent to $27.77. Commonwealth Bank finished up 0.4 per cent at $65.12, as the bank prepares to release its earnings report on Wednesday.
Home-loan approvals numbers released by the Bureau of Statistics showed a third consecutive month of falls, with the number of loans down 1.5 per cent from November to December.
"Whichever way you twist and turn it, towards the final part of the year, the housing market had not picked up to the extent that people were hoping for, from a borrowing perspective," said Mr Farnham.
The dollar slipped below $US1.03 in late trading, fetching $US1.0295, its lowest since October.
The price of gold was $US1668.21 per ounce, down $US3.82.