* Financials, materials pull market lower
* Oil stocks follow crude prices higher
* Investors bargain hunt among defensives
By Aaron Saldanha
Feb 20 (Reuters) - Australian shares slipped on Tuesday as investors pared positions in sectors like financials and materials, though the benchmark’s top loser was Super Retail Group Ltd, which fell as much as 17.5 percent to a more than three-year low after reporting a slip in half year net profit.
Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.3 percent, or 18.7 points on Tuesday to 5,992.9 by 0051 GMT. The benchmark had risen 0.6 percent on Monday.
Financials weakened more than 0.5 percent and were the main index’s biggest drags. Materials stocks were the second biggest weight on the benchmark; falling as much as 1 percent.
Mining giant BHP and peer Rio Tinto lost as much as 1.8 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively. Both stocks were on track to end lower for a second straight session.
BHP is scheduled to report half year results later in the day.
Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ) reported lower impaired assets for the first quarter, earlier on Tuesday, but it had little impact on the share price.
Insurance Australia Group Ltd was the sectoral index’s biggest loser as it fell as much as 2.7 percent.
“We are seeing a sort of rebalance happening, we are seeing some stocks that were unloved and oversold....having a very good day today on a (generally) negative day,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut Ltd in Perth.
Gambling service provider Tabcorp Holdings Ltd, with a market cap of A$9.53 billion, was trading as much as 2.9 percent higher.
“Tabcorp is having a good day. A consumer discretionary stock, it is just considered defensive in nature, I would say because of the liquidity,” said McGlew.
Energy stocks were among the few gainers as oil prices hit their highest level in nearly two weeks on Monday, lifted by tensions in the Middle East.
Woodside Petroleum Ltd gained the most in almost two weeks.
“There is some bargain hunting going on in a couple of the biggest stocks that have been sold out heavily over the last couple of weeks that the market might have missed out on,” said McGlew.
Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand trade was marked by falls in health care stocks and materials.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index slipped 0.2 percent, or 16.22 points, to 8,099.03.
Ryman Healthcare Ltd fell by the most in nearly two weeks, and was the benchmark’s biggest drag. (Reporting by Aaron Saldanha in Bengaluru; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)