MELBOURNE - The Australian sharemarket closed slightly higher on Thursday, with a mixed performance from blue-chip stocks after an uninspiring lead from United States markets.

At the 1615 AEDT close, the benchmark S&P/ASX200 index had risen 12.2 points, or 0.26 per cent, to 4,774.6, while the broader All Ordinaries index had gained 12.6 points, or 0.26 per cent, to 4,789.3.

On the Sydney Futures Exchange, the December share price index futures contract was 19 points higher at 4,784, on a volume of 17,539 contracts.

CMC Markets head of trading James Foulsham said trading was pretty quiet on Thursday.

"We had a big sell-off last week, and it's steadied since then, and it's starting to wind down towards the end of the year a little bit," he said.

"There was not much of a lead from the US. A few stocks are moving around, but overall, it's generally been pretty low trading volumes."

Mr Foulsham said although gold stocks were off a little bit today they were still holding up as the price of gold continued to rise.

In the resources sector, global miner BHP Billiton rose 55 cents to $42.47, and Rio Tinto dipped three cents to $73.51.

Oil and gas producer Woodside Petroleum reversed 44 cents to $49.36 and Santos put on 13 cents to $15.15.

Among the major banks, National Australia Bank eased 12 cents to $28.68 as it raised its standard variable mortgage rate by 25 basis points, the same amount as the central bank's increase.

Westpac improved 19 cents to $24.46, Commonwealth bank declined 59 cents to $54.11 and ANZ gained nine cents to $22.20.

Gold rose to another record price overnight as the US dollar weakened, cementing the precious metal's surge over the past year as nervy investors sought safe-haven investments.

At 1618 AEDT the spot price of gold in Sydney was US$1,218.50 per fine ounce, up US$3.47 on Wednesday's closing price of US$1,215.03.

Lihir eased five cents to $3.68, Newcrest fell seven cents to $39.19, and Newmont sagged four cents to $6.02.

On Wall Street overnight, the Dow Jones Industrial Average index fell 18.90 points, or 0.18 per cent, to 10,452.68.

Retailer Woolworths retreated 15 cents to $27.94, and Wesfarmers, which owns Coles, was off 10 cents at $29.30.

Department store operator Myer Holdings added eight cents to $3.82 as chief executive Bernie Brookes said sales growth between the second and fourth quarter of 2009/10 would slow from the 5.3 per cent growth rate recorded in the first quarter.

Telstra was steady at $3.49, as was Optus-owner Singapore Telecommunications at $2.34.

In the media sector, News Corp was 23 cents higher at $15.21 and its non-voting scrip rose 25 cents to $12.85.

Consolidated Media lost three cents to $3.09 and Fairfax picked up two cents at $1.69.

Among other stocks, agricultural chemicals supplier Nufarm gained 34 cents, or 3.24 per cent, to $10.85 after it said $13 a share was a fair price for its business as it continues takeover talks with China's state-owned Sinochem.

Stockbroking and advisory firm Bell Financial Group ascended nine cents, or 7.96 per cent, to $1.22 after it said its pre-tax profit for the 11 months to November was 92 per cent higher than the previous corresponding period.

Defence technology company Metal Storm fell 0.1 cent to 2.4 cents after it cut its day-to-day expenditure to remain solvent.

The most-traded stock by volume was gold explorer Dragon Mining, with 94.6 million shares worth $9.06 million changing hands.

Dragon Mining was up 2.4 cents at 11.5 cents.

Preliminary national turnover was 2.5 billion shares worth $5.24 billion, with 573 stocks up, 513 down and 343 unchanged.

- AAP