* Australian shares hit more than four-week low
* Soft commodity prices weigh down material and energy sectors
* Consumer staples drive New Zealand shares higher
By Christina Martin
Jan 17 (Reuters) - Australian shares slumped to their lowest in more than four weeks on Wednesday, on track for a second straight session of losses, as weak base metal prices hit materials stocks, dragging down the index.
Copper and nickel touched multi-week lows on a steadier dollar, while lead and aluminium prices also ended Tuesday down more than 1 percent.
The S&P/ASX 200 index fell 0.4 percent, or 26.3 points, to 6022.3 by 0015 GMT. The benchmark finished down 0.5 lower on Tuesday.
The metals and mining index slipped as much as 2.3 percent, its biggest fall in four months, with index heavyweights BHP Billiton Ltd and Rio Tinto Ltd losing as much as 3.7 percent and 2.8 percent respectively.
BHP marked its biggest intraday percentage fall in six months, making it one of the biggest losers on the main index, along with Rio, which faced its biggest fall in almost three months.
“There’s a big drop in commodity prices and that will hit everyone. Oil, iron ore - most of the base metals are down so that’s pretty much most of the resource sector,” said Mathan Somasundaram, market portfolio strategist at Blue Ocean Equities.
Miner South32 Ltd fell as much as 2.8 percent, after reporting a 43 percent plunge in metallurgical coal output for the second quarter due to an outage at one of its mines.
The weak commodity prices are driving the currency a bit lower, Somasundaram added, “which means you’ll see a bit of selling in the banks as well.”
Australia’s financial index hit its lowest in nearly six weeks, down as much as 0.4 percent, with the ‘Big Four’ banks shedding between 0.5 percent and 0.7 percent.
“We’ll probably see a bit of selling. I’d expect it (Australian S&P/ASX 200 index) to close on a relatively weak day,” said Somasundaram.
New Zealand’s benchmark S&P/NZX 50 index rose 0.3 percent, or 20.87 points, to 8271.41, led by consumer staples and telecoms.
A2 Milk Company Ltd was the top gainer on the index, up as much as 6 percent and on track for its third straight session of gains.
Synlait Milk Ltd followed closely, adding as much as 2.7 percent, its biggest gain in almost four weeks.
Reporting by Christina Martin in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Nikhil Nainan; Editing by Eric Meijer