Asian shares fell on Wednesday, with Japanese stocks sliding 2 percent to a two-month low, and the safe-haven dollar firmed on concerns that the corporate results season will reveal weaker earnings in the face of flagging global economic growth.
European index futures slipped, with Euro STOXX 50 futures down 0.2 percent, pointing to a third day in the red for European markets. Financial bookmakers called London's FTSE 100 to open down 0.4-0.5 percent.
Equity markets have been rallying since hitting their 2012 low in early June, with action from major central banks to support fragile economies giving a renewed lift last month, but caution has set in as the third quarter results season begins.
"It has been a good run and there are sellers looking to lock in 9 or 10 percent (profit), which will probably look pretty good over the course of the year," said Winston Sammut, investment director at Maxim Asset Management in Sydney.
"We're in a low-growth environment, so if you can get close to a double-digit return you might as well try to lock that in."
The euro slipped, with a rise in Spanish bond yields as Madrid keeps markets guessing over whether it will request an international bailout and violent protests greeting German Chancellor Angela Merkel on a visit to Greece underlining how far the region's debt crisis is from resolution.
Growth-sensitive commodities such as oil and copper and currencies like the Australian dollar were under pressure, while the retreat from riskier assets boosted Japanese government bonds (JGB) and U.S. Treasuries.
Tokyo's Nikkei share average fell to its lowest close since early August, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.5 percent.
Japan's car makers slid after they confirmed sharp declines in September sales in China after a territorial row between Beijing and Tokyo sparked boycotts. Toyota Motor Corp fell 1.9 percent and Honda Motor Co 1.1 percent.
U.S. stocks fell around 1 percent on Tuesday, with shares of Intel, the world's largest semiconductor maker, losing 2.7 percent after downgrades from at least two brokerages. S&P 500 futures traded in Asia slipped 0.2 percent.
Asian technology stocks were hit by Intel's weakness, with the tech sub-index the biggest drag on the MSCI Asia ex-Japan with a 1.4 percent decline. South Korean heavyweight Samsung Electronics fell 3.4 percent.
U.S. companies including FedEx Corp, Caterpillar Inc and Hewlett-Packard Co have warned about earnings, citing weak demand in Europe and China.
Thomson Reuters data shows analysts expect quarterly earnings for S&P 500 companies to decline about 2.3 percent from the year-ago period, the first fall in three years.
"History is not on the side of those who expect the market to continue to prosper once the earnings cycle has turned," said John Higgins, senior markets economist at Capital Economics in London, in a note.
The International Monetary Fund said in its semi-annual check on the world's financial health on Wednesday that the euro area's debt crisis was the main threat and the risks to global financial stability had risen in the last six months, leaving confidence "very fragile".
The report adds to the gloomy backdrop ahead of the IMF's meeting to be held in Tokyo later this week. On Tuesday, the Fund said the global slowdown was worsening and cut its growth forecasts for the second time since April.
SEEKING SAFETY IN DOLLAR
Mounting pessimism about the corporate and macroeconomic outlook drove investors towards government debt, with the 10-year JGB yield falling half a basis point to 0.765 percent, following a fall in benchmark Treasury yields on Tuesday.
The euro fell 0.2 percent to around $1.2855, while the dollar rose by a similar percentage against a basket of major currencies.
Investors have been disappointed that a European finance ministers' meeting at the start of the week passed without significant progress on Spain and Greece.
Market players generally assume that Spain will require a bailout to help streamline its huge public debts, while Greece has yet to agree terms with its international lenders for the next tranche of funds needed to keep the country afloat.
"Currencies will generally take their cue from stocks," said Junya Tanase, chief FX strategist at JPMorgan Chase. "Markets overnight turned against risk and whether that will be reversed will depend on how equities react to U.S. third-quarter earnings results."
Oil fell, with Brent crude dropping 0.4 percent to around $114 a barrel, as growth worries overcame the supply concerns driven by tensions in the Middle East that had been pushing crude higher in recent days.
"Oil has been falling as investors weigh supply risks against weaker demand," said Ben Le Brun, a market analyst at OptionsXpress in Sydney. "A lot of growth expectations are being revised down, especially in China."
Copper edged down 0.2 percent to $8,130.50 a tonne and gold eased 0.1 percent to around $1,762 an ounce.
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