Stocks dip in wait for US, China data

STOCKS edged slightly lower yesterday - losing ground for a fifth straight session - as investors awaited key economic data and commentary from the US and more figures on China's economic growth.

STOCKS edged slightly lower yesterday - losing ground for a fifth straight session - as investors awaited key economic data and commentary from the US and more figures on China's economic growth.

The S&P/ASX 200 Index ended down 1.5 points at 4096.5. The five-day retreat is the longest negative stretch since late November.

Telstra was a standout performer, rising 5?, or 1.3 per cent, to $3.86, its highest close since December 2008. The stock is up about 15 per cent in 2012 compared with just 1 per cent for the benchmark index.

The telco sub-index was the best-performing sector, adding 1.3 per cent, while financials rose 0.4 per cent. Materials fell 0.5 per cent, industrials gave up 1.1 per cent and energy stocks sank 1.2 per cent.

European stocks were lower in early trading last night. The dollar, meanwhile, hovered just below a record high reached early yesterday morning against the euro of 83.43 euro cents. At the close, it was also buying US102.23? (up from US101.86? on Tuesday) and Y81.10 (up from Y80.90).

Spot gold edged lower to $US1575.65 an ounce, and New York oil futures were down $US2.08 at $US83.91 a barrel.

CMC Markets senior trader Tim Waterer said the Australian sharemarket had traded in neutral, after a negative lead from overseas.

Sentiment was largely defensive, he said, as investors contemplated forecasts that quarterly company earnings reports in the US were likely to disappoint.

Investors also feared that European Union leaders might rest on their laurels in implementing measures to stop the eurozone's economic woes worsening.

China's economic health was also of concern after a run of soft economic numbers this week and expectations that Chinese gross domestic product data due for release tomorrow would also point to a slowdown.

On the sharemarket yesterday, global miner BHP Billiton was off 17? at $31.05 and Rio Tinto was 45? weaker at $55.65.

The big banks all firmed, NAB rising 4? to $23.59, ANZ 10? to $22.44, Commonwealth 16? to $53.60 and Westpac 26? to $21.82.

Woodside Petroleum dropped 14? to $30.4 and Santos dipped 3? to $10.52.

Woolworths was 6? higher at $27, and David Jones steady at $2.35.

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