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SYDNEY, AAP – Shares have fallen steadily lower on the Australian market and the heavyweight materials sector was down more than three per cent.

The S&P/ASX200 benchmark index was lower by 50.1 points, or 0.73 per cent, to 6774.6 at 1200 AEDT on Wednesday.

The All Ordinaries was down 55.2 points, or 0.77 per cent, at 7056.2.

Both indices were at levels close to their lowest for the session.

The materials sector had the biggest drop, 3.09 per cent.

Energy fell 2.73 per cent, after quarterly reports from Beach Energy and Oil Search.

There was a slightly poor lead from Wall Street, which is in the midst of quarterly earnings season.

Some companies showed the toll the pandemic has had on business.

In Australia, the rate of inflation remained subdued in the December quarter as government stimulus measures helped limit price pressures, and despite a jump in tobacco prices.

The consumer price index for the December quarter rose 0.9 per cent, slightly higher than the 0.7 per cent increase economists had expected.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the annual rate of inflation was also just 0.9 per cent.

The ANZ-Roy Morgan consumer confidence index rose 2.3 per cent in the past week, recouping its losses seen either side of the Christmas and New Year holidays when parts of NSW and Brisbane were in COVID-19 lockdown.

ANZ head of Australian economics David Plank said the improvement in consumer confidence – a pointer to future household spending – comes on the back of the drop in the unemployment rate to 6.6 per cent in December.

On the ASX, the big miners had heavy falls.

BHP shed 3.23 per cent to $45.11. Fortescue was down 6.16 per cent to $23.74 ahead of giving its first-quarter earnings on Thursday. Rio Tinto slipped 3.72 per cent to $117.24.

The energy sector was not helped by producers’ quarterly reports.

Beach Energy fell 4.71 per cent to $1.76 after its second quarter report showed oil production and sales slipped on the same quarter in 2019.

The 22-day closure of a gas plant in Victoria for maintenance caused production to fall three per cent and sales five per cent.

The company will give earnings guidance at its half-year earnings report on February 15.

Oil Search says it expects 2021 to be another challenging year and forecast lower annual output due to planned maintenance activity at the PNG liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant.

The Australia-listed company says it expects annual production of between 25.5 million barrels of oil equivalent (mmboe) and 28.5 mmboe, lower than the 29 mmboe it churned out in 2020.

Shares fell 2.67 per cent to $4.18.

In banking, results were mixed. ANZ dropped 0.76 per cent to $24.49, the Commonwealth gained 1.13 per cent to $86.24, NAB rose 0.33 per cent to $24.21 and Westpac fell 0.41 per cent to $21.70.

Earlier in the US, the S&P 500 lost 5.74 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 3,849.62. The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped 22.96 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 30,937.04. The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite slid 9.93 points, or 0.1 per cent, to 13,626.06.

The Aussie dollar was buying 77.53 US cents at 1200 AEDT, higher from 77.40 US cents at Monday’s close.