[SYDNEY] Australian shares gave up early gains to finish slightly lower on Monday after weak trade data from China deepened concerns about sputtering economic growth in Australia's No. 1 trading partner.
China's export sales contracted 15 per cent in March while import shipments fell at their sharpest rate since the 2009 global financial crisis.
The S&P/ASX 200 index turned negative after the data was released and fell 8.07 points, or 0.1 per cent, to end the session at 5,960.3. Earlier, it hit an intra-day peak of 5,996.4, its highest level since March 3. The benchmark climbed 0.6 per cent on Friday.
Over the past month, the benchmark has unsuccessfully attempted to breach the 6,000-point mark, a level not seen since February 2008.
Resources stocks were the hardest hit on Monday, with major miners BHP Billiton down 2.4 per cent and Rio Tinto falling 2.8 per cent. Consumer staples, industrials and technology stocks also ended in the red.
New Zealand's benchmark NZX 50 index ended up 0.12 per cent or 6.96 points to finish the session at 5,854.32.