The Australian share market could not hold onto early gains as disappointing local economic data overshadowed better-than-expected manufacturing figures from China.
The benchmark S&P/ASX200 index finished down 5.9 points, or 0.14 per cent, at 4,329.3 points, while the broader All Ordinaries index eased 3.6 points, or 0.08 per cent, to 4,416.4 points.
On the ASX 24, the June share price index futures contract was 12 points lower at 4,333 points, with 30,715 contracts traded.
RBS Morgans director of equities Bill Chatterton said a positive lead from Wall Street and strong data from China set the scene for a solid day on the Australian stock exchange.
But the market's performance turned out to be disappointing after building approvals figures and the AIG manufacturing index "took the gloss off".
China's purchasing managers' index for March, released over the weekend, was the highest in almost a year and boosted mining stocks.
BHP Billiton was up 51 cents, or 1.47 per cent, at $35.12, Rio Tinto gained 79 cents, or 1.21 per cent, to $66.19 and Fortescue Metals Group put on 14 cents, or 2.41 per cent, to $5.95.
Mr Chatterton said BHP Billiton and coal mining joint venture partner Mitsubishi had declared `force majeure' for all of their Bowen Basin projects in Queensland because of heavy rain and industrial action last month.
The declaration would ironically push the coking coal price higher and benefit BHP Billiton, Mr Chatterton said.
He said the finance sector led the losses on Monday.
National Australia Bank dipped 11 cents to $24.49, Westpac fell 17 cents to $21.72, ANZ was 20 cents weaker at $23.06, and Commonwealth Bank backtracked 15 cents to $49.95.
In the insurance sector, AMP gave up seven cents, or 1.62 per cent, to $4.25 and Suncorp was down 18 cents, or 2.14 per cent, at $8.22.
Mr Chatterton said weak performers included airline Qantas, down 3.36 per cent at $1.725, while explosives maker Orica was the worst performing stock on the S&P/ASX 100 index, easing 3.5 per cent to $26.99.
The best performing stock on the S&P/ASX 100 index was PanAust after it began processing ore at its newest mine, Ban Houayxai in Laos, ahead of first production in the coming fortnight.
PanAust was up 15 cents, or 4.93 per cent, at $3.19.
Making headlines on Monday, woodchipper Gunns asked that its shares remain suspended from trading on the Australian Securities Exchange while it continued its bid to raise about $400 million to cut debt and support the development of its $2.5 billion pulp mill project in Tasmania.
Gunns last traded at 16 cents.
Rail operator QR National inched one cent lower to $3.72 as it increased its ownership stake in a Sydney site where a large freight centre is set to be built.
Debt-laden miner Bass Metals is in talks to sell assets as it strives to reduce liabilities.
Bass Metals was up 0.1 cents, or 6.25 per cent, at 1.7 cents.
The spot price of gold in Sydney was $US1,669.25 per fine ounce, up $US7.16 from Friday's local close of $US1,662.09.
Newcrest, Australia's largest gold miner, was 18 cents lower at $29.50.
Market turnover was 2.4 billion shares worth $4.5 billion, with 511 stocks up, 531 down and 380 steady.