Slower-than-expected growth in Chinese exports and Australian home loans weighed on the market in late trade on Monday.
The All Ordinaries managed to close just seven points higher at 4,562 while the ASX 200 rose six points to 4,558.
China's customs figures show exports rose 2.9 per cent in November, a fraction of the 9 per cent growth expected.
It is the weakest Chinese trade performance since June.
However the numbers did reveal some good news for Australian iron ore miners.
Demand for iron ore surged nearly 17 per cent in the month, to its highest level in two years.
As a result, iron ore miners led the gains at the close.
Fortescue rose almost 7 per cent, also helped along by a part-sale of its joint venture with BC Iron in the Pilbara for $190 million.
Rio Tinto added close to 2 per cent, while BHP Billiton gained 0.6 per cent.
The banks were mixed by the close; ANZ lost a fifth of a per cent, while Commonwealth rose out of negative territory to add just two cents.
Media stocks were sold off; Shares in Austereo, the owner of the 2Day-FM radio station involved in the royal prank call, lost 6 per cent as advertisers cancelled business with the station.
The Ten Network lost 9 per cent to 24.5 cents as investors punished the company for its second fund-raising effort in less than six months.
On the economics front, home loan figures disappointed the market.
Bureau of Statistics figures show a 0.1 per cent increase in owner-occupier home loans from September to October.
Economists had been tipping a rise of 3 per cent.
There was a sharp rise in investors taking up loans, but economists do not believe that is going to be enough to spur the housing market.
The Australian dollar continued within a tight trading band and about 5pm (AEDT) was buying 104.8 US cents, unchanged from the same time Friday.
On the cross rates it was buying 81 euro cents, 65.3 British pence and 86.4 Japanese yen.
West Texas crude was worth $US85.50 a barrel, Tapis was close to $US113, while spot gold was worth $US1,708 an ounce.