March 6 (Reuters) - Australian shares traded marginally higher on Monday, as gains in material stocks and financials countered the losses in defensive and energy stocks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index edged up 0.2 percent or 11.5 points to 5,741.1 by 0107 GMT.
A recovery in Chinese steel futures and oil prices on Friday pushed materials higher, with the metal index gaining more than 1 percent.
Large-cap iron ore miner BHP Billiton which has significant oil exposure rose nearly 1 percent, while Rio Tinto Ltd gained 1.5 percent. Fortescue Metals was up 2.7 percent, and BlueScope Steel Ltd added 2 percent.
BHP and Rio Tinto were both having a relatively good session, helped by the commodity price action in the offshore session on Friday, said Ben Le Burn, a market analyst at OptionsXpress.
For other sectors, it has so far been a mixed performance, he added.
Financial stocks, which benefit from rising interest rates, followed their U.S. peers higher on Wall Street on Friday, after the U.S. Federal Reserve signalled there could be an interest rate hike this month.
Westpac Banking Corp, among the ‘Big Four’ banks in Australia rose 0.8 percent, while National Australia Bank was up 0.4 percent.
Insurance Australia Group was the top performer on the benchmark financial index gaining as much as 2.1 percent. The company said in a statement it had received over 20,000 claims from the Northern Sydney hailstorm, and advised its expectations of net claims cost.
Defensive stocks such as healthcare, consumer discretionary and utilities lost heavily in morning trade.
Shares of educational services provider Navitas Ltd slipped as much as 16.9 percent to its lowest since end-October 2015, after it said a reduction in Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) delivery centres would impact earnings of its Professional and English Programs Division.
Energy shares failed to benefit from the recovery in oil prices last Friday and traded in negative territory. Shares of oil producer Caltex Australia Ltd dropped 1.6 percent, while Santos Ltd lost 1.1 percent. However, Woodside Petroleum rose 0.6 percent.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index was up 0.2 percent or 11.14 points to 7,172.01. Consumer and financial stocks were the major movers.
NZ-listed shares of Westpac Banking Corp rose 1.4 percent. a2 Milk Company Ltd, the top performer on the benchmark gained more than four percent.
Reporting by Anusha Ravindranath in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Sindhu Chandrasekaran; Editing by Jacqueline Wong