Chinese shares led global markets lower Wednesday as investors fretted over the outlook of the world's second-largest economy and whether the U.S. economic recovery was losing its shine.
Mainland Chinese shares saw their biggest loss in almost four months following a run of disappointing U.S. economic figures, with investors worrying that weak U.S. consumer demand could add to the contraction already being experienced by Chinese manufacturers.
The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index slid 2.7 percent to 2,284.88 while the Shenzhen Composite Index dived 4.1 percent to 909.58
"Concerns about a slowdown in the Chinese economy are continuing to depress the Shanghai Composite," said Neil MacKinnon, global macro strategist at VTB Capital.
U.S. economic indicators have mostly surpassed expectations this year, particularly with regard to the jobs market, and that has supported stocks. An easing in Europe's debt crisis has also helped, though many investors remained skeptical of claims _ as made by Italian Premier Mario Monti this week _ that the crisis was almost over.
In recent days, the economic newsflow out of the U.S. has been fairly disappointing and figures Wednesday did little to lift the prevailing pessimism. U.S. durable goods orders for February were up only 2.2 percent following a 3.6 percent drop the previous month. The consensus in the markets was for a 3 percent rise.
"These data points suggest corporate investment spending is losing momentum," said Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho Securities USA.
Following the figures, European markets remained lower while U.S. stocks trod water.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.2 percent at 5,855 while Germany's DAX fell 0.3 percent to 7,060. The CAC-40 in France was 0.2 percent lower at 3,464. The euro was also trading softly, down 0.1 percent at $1.3317.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was up 0.1 percent at 13,204 while the broader Standard & Poor's 500 index was unchanged at 1,412.
Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index dropped 0.7 percent to close at 10,182.57, a day after the benchmark shot to a one-year high. Hong Kong's Hang Seng ceded 0.8 percent to 20,885.42 and South Korea's Kospi shed 0.4 percent to 2,031.74.
Oil prices tracked equities lower, with the benchmark New York rate down $1.78 at $105.55 a barrel.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.