THE sharemarket finished higher on Monday, but down from the day's peak as Chinese manufacturing numbers put a dampener on what was otherwise a positive run.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 Index held its ground above 5000, adding 37.7 points, or 0.8 per cent, to 5055.8, while the broader All Ordinaries rose 36 points, or 0.7 per cent, to 5072.7.
Growth in China's manufacturing sector fell from two-year highs, with the HSBC flash purchasing manufacturers' index (PMI) dropping from 52.3 in January to 50.4 in February. Despite the slip, a measure above 50 indicates expansion, China's economic growth remains on a steady recovery.
Strong performances from financial and consumer shares gave the local market most of its lift.
Suncorp analyst Darryl Conroy said consumer staples were attractive to investors as the sector had reasonably stable revenue streams.
Metcash jumped 3.2 per cent to $4.19, while Goodman Fielder gained 2.8 per cent to 73.5¢.
The big supermarkets also rallied. Woolworths rose 1.3 per cent to $34.70 and Wesfarmers continued its stellar run, jumping 2.1 per cent to $40.64, its highest since June 2007.
Among the big banks, Westpac gained 1.7 per cent to $30.37, NAB jumped 1.5 per cent to $30.28, ANZ rose 1.1 per cent to $28.47, while CBA edged higher to finish at $65.75.
"Given how flat the materials sector has been for the last few trading days, it's not a bad start [to the week] at all," said Mr Conroy.
Causing the mining sector headaches, iron ore fell 1.7 per cent to $US153.60 a tonne. BHP was relatively flat at $36.90, Rio Tinto shed 0.9 per cent to $66.15 and Fortescue Metals lost 1.7 per cent to $4.75.
Ten Network, which last Friday dumped chief executive James Warburton in favour of Hamish McLennan, surged 6.8 per cent to 31.5¢, with investors hoping the former News Corp executive will turn around the fortunes of the ailing television network.
Beach Energy shares jumped 5.8 per cent to $1.37 on news that US Energy company Chevron will pay $US349 million to partner in its South Australia and Queensland shale gas operations.
Before reporting its second-half earnings on Tuesday, QBE shares fell 1.1 per cent to $13.03.
The results of the Italian elections are likely to play on markets for the rest of the week, said Mr Conroy.
"The risk being if it's going to be a negotiated minority type government and what that means for Italian politics. As we've seen in other areas when the austerity measures are due to be wielded, it's very tough to get several parties to agree to that," he said.