By Agence France-Presse
Investors around the world are fleeing riskier assets such as stocks and high-yielding currencies in search of safety as a wave of negative issues dominate the news.
Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at OANDA, pointed to "a toxic geopolitical cocktail of nagging concerns" from Chinese growth, stuttering Brexit talks, Italy's budget standoff with Brussels and the killing of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Even US stocks -- which have been supported in recent months by a strong economy despite sharp losses elsewhere -- are feeling the strain, Innes added.
"Significant for global equity investors, the US equities Teflon persona was seriously questioned as price action suggested there is one asset class investors fear: equities," he warned in a note.
"And like migratory birds heading south for winter, the icy chill enveloping global stock markets has sent investors flocking to safe to haven assets."
Despite an afternoon bounce, Wall Street's three main indexes ended with losses following a mixed round of earnings.
In Asia, markets fluctuated throughout the day.
Hong Kong, which dived more than three percent Tuesday, lost 0.5 percent in the afternoon.
Shanghai rose 0.3 percent but the Friday-Monday surge from Chinese officials' coordinated support has been almost forgotten, while observers said a steady drip of stimulus announcements were also unlikely to provide a long-term solution.
"Recent measures may stabilise the market's confidence for a while but more fundamental steps are needed," wrote Vincent Chan and Pearl Xu, strategists at Credit Suisse.
Tokyo ended 0.4 percent higher but Seoul dropped 0.4 percent and Sydney was 0.2 percent lower.
Singapore rose 0.3 percent but Taipei, Wellington, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta all dropped.
'Wall of worry'
David Kudla, chief executive officer of Mainstay Capital Management, told Bloomberg Television: "We've come up upon a tremendous wall of worry for US stocks and stocks around the world. Concern among investors is the deceleration in earnings growth."
Energy companies were among the worst hit after both main contracts plunged more than four percent Tuesday after Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said the major producer would boost output and spare capacity to help maintain supplies.
Prices had hit four-year highs this month with sanctions due to be imposed on Iran next month, while Venezuela continued with an economic and political crisis and US data pointed to a pick-up in demand.
However, they have dipped in recent weeks owing to growing concerns about the global economy, particularly China, and a rise in the US dollar, which makes the commodity expensive for holders of other currencies.
While Brent and WTI were essentially flat Wednesday, Sydney-listed Woodside Petroleum fell 1.3 percent, while Inpex tanked 3.3 percent in Tokyo and CNOOC dived 3.4 percent in Hong Kong.
Investors are also keeping an eye on Italy after the EU rejected the populist government's big-spending budget, the first time it has turned a member away over spending rules violations.
With Rome likely to ignore the decision, the move puts the two on course to a clash, just as the EU struggles to reach a deal for Britain to leave the bloc with a deadline imminent.
In early European trade London rose 0.4 percent, Frankfurt added 0.6 percent and Paris was up 0.2 percent.
Key figures around 0720 GMT
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.4 percent at 22,091.18 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: DOWN 0.5 percent at 25,211.85
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.3 percent at 2,603.30 (close)
London - FTSE 100: UP 0.4 percent at 6,981.11
Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1461 from $1.1472 at 2040 GMT
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2960 from $1.2985
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 112.39 from 112.41 yen
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN eight cents at $66.35 per barrel
Oil - Brent Crude: DOWN 10 cents at $76.34 per barrel
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.5 percent at 25,191.43 (close).