A rebound in Asian stocks ran out of steam Thursday as worries over the widening euro zone crisis and the faltering U.S. economy undermined investor confidence.
The euro slipped ahead of a European Central Bank rate-setting meeting later in the day, and remained vulnerable to concerns that efforts to contain the two-year-old sovereign debt crisis are not moving quickly enough, while the Australian dollar was hit by unexpectedly poor employment data.
Volatility still persists and the market is likely to continue to dance to the tune of policy risks involving the U.S. and European economies, Kim Hyung-ryol, a market analyst at Kyobo Securities in Seoul, told Reuters.
Global equities suffered their worst correction since 2008 in August, on fears of renewed recession in the United States and worries about Europe's widening crisis. Despite a modest bounce in recent sessions, the MSCI All-Country World index remains 16 percent below its 2011 high, reached in May.
Japan's Nikkei inched up 0.2 percent, paring earlier gains, while MSCI's broadest index of Asia Pacific shares outside Japan fell 0.1 percent.
U.S. S&P futures fell 0.3 percent during the Asian day, pointing to a softer opening on Wall Street later in the day.
Germany's top court on Wednesday rejected lawsuits aimed at blocking Berlin's participation in bailout packages for Greece and other heavily indebted euro zone countries, offering some temporary relief to global markets.
The euro, after jumping on the German court decision, eased on Thursday to around $1.4060.
CHANGE OF TACK
The ECB is the only major Western central bank to have raised rates since the end of the global financial crisis, but is expected to signal a change in policy tack and halt its tightening cycle in response to the sovereign debt crisis and slowing economic growth.
Market players will be closely watching for any comment from ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet on the central bank's buying of Italian and Spanish bonds to force down yields, a policy that has deeply divided its governing council.
If Trichet makes cautious remarks on bond buying, Italian and Spanish spreads could rise again and hurt investor sentiment, said Junya Tanase, chief strategist at JPMorgan Chase.
Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is due to speak later on Thursday, at 1:30 p.m. EDT, and President Barack Obama will outline to Congress his plans for reviving the faltering economy at 7 p.m. EDT. With unemployment stuck above 9 percent, Obama will lay out a plan to spur job creation.
Some analysts think Bernanke may hint at further easing steps to try to stimulate the economy, which could put downward pressure on the dollar, although divisions within the Fed could lead him to stay his hand for now.
He really can't break new ground given a divided Federal Reserve, said Allen Sinai of Decision Economics.
The U.S. currency was a little firmer against the yen at around 77.38, while the dollar index .DXY, which measures its performance against a basket of major currencies, edged up around 0.2 percent.
The Australian dollar fell 0.6 percent to around $1.0590 after employment unexpectedly fell in August, prompting the money market to price in rate cuts of nearly 0.75 percentage points by the end of the year.
Gold rebounded nearly 1 percent to trade around $1,831 an ounce, after tumbling 3 percent in the previous session.
The precious metal has hit a succession of records, most recently at $1,920.30 on Tuesday, driven by its appeal as both a safe haven in times of economic uncertainty and as a hedge against inflation, which some fear will be the eventual consequence of the ultra-loose monetary policies being pursued in much of the developed world.
Concerns about economic growth in the United States and euro zone will keep supporting gold prices. Even though we may see liquidation repeatedly along the way, gold will rise toward $2,000, said a dealer at a Tokyo-based bullion house.
Oil was little changed, with U.S. crude edging up to $89.43 a barrel and Brent crude down 0.2 percent at $115.64.
(Reporting by By Alex Richardson in Singapore, Miyoung Kim in Seoul and Lisa Twaronite and Hideyuki Sano in Tokyo; Editing by Kim Coghill)