* Topix slips 0.3 pct to trade below 1,000 * Exporters suffer after weak U.S. factory data * Real estate firms gain ahead of BOJ meeting this week TOKYO, April 2 (Reuters) - The Nikkei stock average pared earlier steep losses on Tuesday to regain the 12,000-mark as bargain-hunting investors bet that the Bank of Japan will pull the country out of its economic doldrums. The Nikkei lost 0.7 percent to 12,053.35 in afternoon trade, after falling as much as 2.7 percent earlier in the session to below the 12,000-mark for the first time in three weeks, with exporters like Canon Inc taking a beating after weak U.S. factory data raised concerns about the U.S. recovery. "People were looking for excuse to take profits," a sales trader in Tokyo said. "Everybody is saying if we are in a constructive bull market then you actually buy back on dips. That actually happened today." Real estate and financial companies, which benefit from the government's drive to reflate the economy, were in demand. Real estate investment fund Kenedix Inc jumped 14.5 percent and was the most-traded stock on the main board by turnover, while lenders Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Mizuho Financial Group and Sumitomo Mitsui Financial Group gained between 2.3 and 2.6 percent. The BOJ is expected to announce new monetary expansion measures after its two-day meeting ends on April 4. The benchmark Nikkei rallied 19.3 percent in January-March, its best quarterly performance in nearly four years, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe embarked on expansionary fiscal and monetary policies to revive the economy. However, exporters, which have rallied in recent months on the back of the yen's weakness, remained on the back foot. Canon, Toyota Motor Corp, Honda Motor Co and TDK Corp were down between 1.8 and 2.7 percent. The broader Topix index eased 0.3 percent to 998.04, falling below the 1,000-mark for the first time in nearly four weeks. The Topix sank 3.3 percent on Monday, its biggest one-day percentage fall in two years. "The first-quarter performance was quite good, so investors want to take profit ... I am not worried about it too much," said Hisao Matsuura, an equity strategist at Nomura Securities. He said he expected the Nikkei to test 13,000 by the end of June as the economy was likely to improve while the BOJ kept its stimulus tap open.