The share market ended a day of fluctuating fortunes slightly weaker, amid falls for the heavyweight banks, miners and telcos.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 stock index dropped 4.5 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 5,984.3 points.
A lack of momentum is making it difficult for the market to leave the 6,000 point level behind, Macquarie Private Wealth division director Martin Lakos said.
“We need a driver to take this into a Santa Claus rally, and it will have to probably be an overseas lead,” he said.
Shares in utilities such as AGL Energy and consumer-focused stocks including Woolworths and Coles-owner Wesfarmers were among the best performers, and briefly helped the market move into positive territory.
Mining stocks proved to be a drag though, with Rio Tinto dropping 0.8 per cent, BHP Billiton falling two per cent and Fortescue Metals shedding three per cent as iron ore prices slipped.
Energy shares were also lower, with Woodside, Oil Search and Caltex Australia all dropping by more than one per cent after oil prices weakened over lingering doubts about OPEC extending its output cuts.
Origin Energy gained 2.4 per cent to $8.80 after the energy producer and retailer said it is lifting generation from its biggest power plant to take advantage of higher prices.
Each of the big four banks lost ground as an inquiry into the banking sector remains a possibility, with National Australia Bank and Westpac the weakest, each shedding 0.9 per cent.
Telstra fell for a second straight session following NBN Co’s announcement on Monday that it is suspending the rollout of the hybrid coaxial-fibre (HFC) network for six to nine months, raising concerns about the delay to expected payments to Telstra.
The telco’s shares dropped 1.7 per cent to a seven week low of $3.40.
It was a quiet session for the Australian dollar, which remained relatively steady against the US dollar.
ON THE ASX:
* The benchmark S&P/ASX200 stock index was down 4.5 points, or 0.08 per cent, at 5,984.3 points at 1630 AEDT.
* The broader All Ordinaries index was down 3.7 points, or 0.06 per cent, at 6,066.7 points
* The SPI200 futures contract was down two points, or 0.03 per cent, at 5,989 points.
* National turnover was 4.8 billion securities traded worth $7.9 billion.
CURRENCY SNAPSHOT AT 1700 AEDT:
One Australian dollar buys:
* 76.13 US cents, from 76.07 on Monday
* 84.65 Japanese yen, from 84.73 yen
* 63.96 euro cents, from 63.77 euro cents
* 57.11 British pence, from 57.11 pence
* 109.67 NZ cents, from 110.81 cents
The spot price of gold in Sydney at 1700 AEDT was $US1,294.40 per fine ounce, from $US1,290.16 per fine ounce on Monday.
BOND SNAPSHOT AT 1630 AEDT:
* CGS 4.50 per cent April 2020, 1.8032pct, from 1.8235pct on Monday
* CGS 4.75pct April 2027, 2.4542pct, from 2.4818pct
Sydney Futures Exchange prices:
* December 2017 10-year bond futures contract at 97.49 (implying a yield of 2.51pct), from 97.46 (2.54pct) on Monday
* December 2017 3-year bond futures contract at 98.09 (1.91pct), from 98.07 (1.93pct).
(*Bond market closes taken at 1630 AEDT previous local session; currency closes taken from 1700 AEDT previous local session)