MELBOURNE: Australian shares slipped 0.2 percent in thin trade on Monday as investors began winding down ahead of the end of year holiday season, though the resource sector found support from firm iron ore prices, which had helped the market to a 17-month high last week.
Banks, healthcare and other industrial shares posted modest declines, while mining stocks were held up by the rally in iron ore prices and an encouraging manufacturing survey from China on Friday.
"There is a bit of money coming out of the high-yielding stocks like banks and coming into resources," said Jamie Elgar, dealer at Burrell & Co.
He said there was likely to be little clear direction until talks aimed at avoiding steep tax hikes and spending cuts in the US economy were resolved.
Overall volumes were moderate, with total turnover just 83 percent of an average day.
Among the top miners, BHP Billiton rose 0.8 percent to A$36.35.
The benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index declined 9.7 points to close at 4,573.4, not far from last week's 4,603 17-month peak. The benchmark ended flat on Friday.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index fell 0.3 percent to 3,966.5.
Shares in Fortescue Metals Group jumped 3.7 percent after the group said it is in talks to sell a minority stake in its multi-billion dollar port and rail assets as it looks to cut debt and dig new mines.
Uranium miner Paladin Energy jumped 8.4 percent to A$0.97, getting a boost after the pro-nuclear power Liberal Democratic Party won Japan's election in a landslide.
Australian surfwear company Billabong International put its shares in a trading halt ahead of a possible takeover bid for the company, the latest development in a tumultuous year in which three previous takeover offers failed.
Before the halt, the shares hit a two-month high on a report that an independent director had made a takeover offer worth A$527 million ($555 million) for the company. The shares last traded up 4.8 percent at A$0.98.
Shares in publisher Fairfax Media rose 1.0 percent after it sold off its 51 percent stake in New Zealand online business Trade Me Ltd -- seen by many analysts as its best asset -- for A$616 million ($649 million) to slash debt.
Center>Copyright Reuters, 2012