* Benchmark rises to five month high
* Energy stocks biggest drag on the index
* Miners set to snap four weeks of gains
March 1 (Reuters) - Australian shares rose to a five-month high on Friday as financial and defensive firms shone, though miners extended their retreat over the week following a robust performance over much of February.
The S&P/ASX 200 index advanced 0.5 percent or 27.5 points to 6196.5 by 0038 GMT. The benchmark is set to gain for a second straight week.
Property trusts enjoyed an upswing in early trade as a combination of weak Chinese data and trepidation over the outcome of Sino-U.S. trade talks turned some investors towards more defensive stocks.
“Today we are seeing a rotation as of the bigger material stocks which have been having a powerful run-up in the past...so there’s profit taking from there and those profits are finding its way to the more defensive parts of the market,” said James McGlew, executive director of corporate stockbroking at Argonaut, alluding to property trusts, healthcare stocks and the banks.
Shares of property developer Goodman Group, jumped 3.3 percent to its highest in over two years, while Stockland Corporation Ltd rose 2.7 percent.
All of the Big Four banks advanced in a boost to the benchmark index, with Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd gaining the most with a 1 percent gain to a five month high.
Elsewhere, shares of Harvey Norman Holdings extended gains to rise as much as 5 percent after reporting increased half-year profits in the previous session.
Going the other way, energy stocks were under pressure as oil prices eased with trade tensions persisting and following news of a surge in U.S. production.
Woodside Petroleum Ltd and Origin Energy Ltd dropped 1.3 percent each.
Material stocks also dropped 0.4 percent with global miners BHP Group Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd shedding 0.7 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.
Australia’s mining sector saw a strong performance in February, with its sub-index rising for four straight weeks on positive developments in U.S.-China trade talks and rising commodity prices.
However, with recent optimism over a U.S.-China trade deal somewhat diminishing, the index is set to lodge a 1.4 percent drop this week.
Lynas Corp, among the worst performers on the benchmark, extended losses to fall 1.9 percent after auditors to the rare earths producer flagged a material risk to its business on Thursday.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 percent or 29.18 points to 9,354.21.
Air New Zealand Ltd and Fletcher Building Ltd advanced 1 percent and 3.4 percent, respectively. (Reporting by Shreya Mariam Job in Bengaluru Editing by Shri Navaratnam)
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