Manufacturing in China, India and Russia powered ahead in August while growth slowed in European factories, emphasising a growing divide in the pace of recovery between the rich and emerging worlds.
Between the euro zone's biggest four economies there was strong evidence of diverging fortunes, with the bloc's manufacturing sector overall expanding at its slowest pace since February, surveys showed on Wednesday.
Equivalent figures from the United States, due at 3:00 p.m. British time, are expected to show an easing of manufacturing growth, adding to investor unease about a stalling recovery there, a concern the Federal Reserve has openly recognised.
The Markit Eurozone Manufacturing PMI for August dropped to 55.1 from 56.7 in July but nudged up from an earlier flash estimate of 55.0 and marked its 11th month above the 50.0 mark that divides growth from contraction.
Manufacturing growth in Germany slowed in August although other recent data show Europe's biggest economy is expanding fast. Business in France accelerated but Italy and Spain saw their manufacturing indexes slip backwards.
We are at a delicate juncture of the global business cycle. Globally there is a slowdown in the trade cycle which first affects the economies which are reliant on that, said Silvio Peruzzo at RBS.
Just as they were benefitting from the acceleration in Q4 2009 and Q1 2010, they will now be subject to the downturn and this will amplify the divergence we are seeing.
Britain, a major euro zone trading partner, saw growth in its manufacturing sector slow more than expected last month, led by the weakest expansion in new orders for more than a year.
In contrast, a pair of China's manufacturing surveys showed activity picked up last month after a government-engineered slowdown, and Indian factories stayed in top gear after Asia's third-largest economy grew at its fastest rate in nearly three years in the last quarter.
Factories in Russia -- part of the BRIC quartet of new economic powers alongside China, India and Brazil -- also cranked up output, expanding at their fastest rate in 28 months largely thanks to the strong domestic demand.
HSBC's purchasing managers' index (PMI) for China rose to a three-month high of 51.9 in August from 49.4 in July, while the official index also rose, to 51.7 from 51.2.
Optimism that Beijing was succeeding in shifting towards more domestic-driven and sustained growth after a credit-fuelled spurt early this year helped lift Asian stocks and metals markets largely dependent on demand from China.
This reconfirms our long-held view that China is moderating rather than melting down, said Qu Hongbin, chief economist for China at HSBC.
Its ever-growing influence showed up in Australia which grew 1.2 percent in the second quarter, beating market forecasts largely due to China's and India's voracious appetite for Australia's resource riches from coal to wheat.
But even China, which by some measures has already overtaken Japan as the world's second-largest economy, is not entirely immune to global economic headwinds with its PMI showing factory activity and new orders growth slowing markedly.
Fears that recovery in the United States was petering out and could stall the global upturn led by export-driven Asian economies as well as Germany have haunted markets, pushing the global stock index <.MIWD00000POUS> down more than 3 percent last month.
A U.S. PMI index due from the Institute for Supply Management is expected to ease to 53.0 in August from 55.5, still safely above 50 that separates growth from contraction.
Investors, however, will look at new orders data for any signs whether manufacturing growth can be sustained.
With unemployment stuck near 10 percent and the impact of the government's $862 billion economic stimulus fading, investors worry that even if the U.S. economy avoids a double-dip recession it may face a period of near-stagnation.
The big question then would be whether Asia and Europe's biggest powers could carry on prospering or would inevitably be dragged down with the world's largest economy, whose markets they are still heavily reliant on for export demand.
(Additional reporting by Yoo Choonsik in Seoul, Wayne Cole in Sydney, Lidia Kelly in Moscow and Yati Himatsingka in Bangalore, editing by Mike Peacock)