* BHP biggest boost for index, ANZ largest drag
* Santos top gainer after $10.4 bln takeover bid
* NZ’s Fletcher Building hits more than 5-1/2-year low (Updates to close)
By Susan Mathew
April 3 (Reuters) - Australian shares ended slightly lower on Tuesday, as gains in material stocks and a surge in energy company Santos countered losses in financial and industrial stocks.
The S&P/ASX 200 index closed 0.13 percent, or 7.5 points, lower at 5,751.9, marking its third straight day of losses.
“I think it’s just concern over a couple of things. Maybe signs of a slowdown in growth, a peaking in growth momentum of stocks, various discussions over the IT sector in the U.S. and also the prospect of a trade war, are combining to undermine the market,” said Damien Hennessy, co-founder of Heuristic Investment Systems.
Meanwhile at home, the Reserve Bank of Australia stood pat on its cash rate at 1.5 percent, marking the 20th month without a change and looked set to extend the period of “masterful inaction” for some time.
Financial stocks ended lower with three of the ‘Big Four’ banks down between 0.1 percent and 1.2 percent. ANZ posted its longest losing streak since June 2016.
Toll road operator Transurban Group and consumer stock Aristocrat Leisure were among other drags, down 1.7 percent and 2.7 percent, respectively.
On the other hand, Santos was the top gainer on the benchmark, closing 16.2 percent higher, after it received a $10.4 billion unsolicited takeover offer from U.S. energy infrastructure investment company Harbour Energy.
Santos said that it would engage with Harbour this time after it rejected their bid last year.
Miner BHP boosted the benchmark the most, up 1.8 percent, while gains in global miner Rio Tinto of 2.1 percent and gold miner Newcrest Mining of 2.3 percent, were supported by higher prices of underlying commodities.
Newcrest shares were supported also by processing recommencing at it flagship Cadia mine.
Energy stocks also had a good session with Woodside Petroleum ending up 0.7 percent, underpinned by firmer oil prices.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index finished 10.86 points, or 0.13 percent higher, at 8,329.93.
Utility companies Meridian Energy and Mercury NZ Ltd led gains by rising 2.5 percent each, while construction firm Fletcher Building and Ryman Healthcare, led losses. Fletcher fell 1.7 percent, hitting its lowest since July 2012. (Reporting by Susan Mathew in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Ambar Warrick Editing by Jacqueline Wong)