The euro fell to a five-month low against the dollar on Wednesday as investors seized on Greece's fiscal woes to drive the currency below key support, while shares in China were hit by reports of bank lending restrictions.
The latest move by the Chinese authorities to cool a rapidly growing economy was likely to temper any rise in European shares despite growing optimism there over the corporate earnings season.
Futures on the Dow Jones Euro Stoxx 50 index slipped 0.1 percent in early trade.
Beijing's instructions that some major banks curb lending over the rest of the month also hurt commodity prices and currencies leveraged to global growth like the Australian dollar.
The euro's lunge lower came after a break of big chart bulwarks between $1.4250 and $1.4200 tripped a host of automatic sell orders, pushing it over a cent to a low of $1.4166.
There was no particular news behind the move, said Sean Callow, a senior currency strategist at Westpac in Sydney.
It was more that people just want to be bearish on the euro now and somebody took a swing at $1.4250, forcing a load of stop-loss sales, he explained. It's not like investors are really excited about the U.S. dollar either.
The euro has been worn down in recent weeks by worries over the fiscal health of Greece and took a fresh blow on Tuesday from a disappointing survey of German investor sentiment.
Its losses came across the board, hitting a five-month low on the British pound and a nine-year trough against the Australian dollar.
The latter fared less well on the U.S. currency as the news from China knocked it back over half a cent to $0.9163. Against a basket of currencies, the U.S. dollar firmed to a one-week high at 78.026 <.DXY>, though it made little progress on the yen at 91.15.
CHINA TAPS THE BRAKES
Shares in China and Hong Kong fell after sources said the authorities had instructed some major banks to stop lending for the rest of January after they went on a lending binge early in the month.
The Shanghai Composite <.SSEC> dropped 2.9 percent. The benchmark Hang Seng Index <.HSI> was down 2 percent, weighed down by big Chinese banks such as Bank of China <3988.HK> <601988.SS>, which fell 3.9 percent in Hong Kong and 1.7 percent in Shanghai.
Asian markets have been rattled in recent weeks by China's gradual attempts to tighten policy, with an eye on reining in bank lending to stave off inflation. Chinese demand for commodities and other imported goods from its neighbors has provided a major boost to the region in the absence of a strong rebound in key Western markets.
Yet many analysts think the concerns overdone.
It's another sign the Chinese economy is running at full steam, noted Ben Potter, an analyst at IG Markets in Sydney.
Obviously attempts to slow it will be met by short term weakness but in the long run, this should be seen as a positive as it helps prevent the economy from overheating and asset bubbles from forming.
The MSCI Asia-Pacific index excluding Japan eased 1.01 percent <.MIAPJ0000PUS>, while Thomson Reuters index of regional shares <.TRXFLDAXPU> lost 0.4 percent. Japan's Nikkei <.N225> gave up early gains to drop 0.25 percent.
One star was Indonesia's IDX Composite <.JKSE>, which withstood the drop elsewhere in the region and was mostly unchanged in late trade. Early in the day the Jakarta bourse touched a three-year peak, extending a meteoric run that has seen it double in the past year.
The stock market in Jakarta is usually influenced by commodities market trends in the world and now there's belief the commodities markets will be strong this year because of the (global) economy's recovery, said Muhammad Al Fatih, technical analyst at BNI Securities in Jakarta.
Shares in U.S. health insurers and pharmaceutical companies were seen benefiting from the Republicans' surprise win in a U.S. senate race that could hamper health reform.
Traders felt sentiment could also be supported by upbeat results from IBM after the bell on Tuesday.
Standard & Poor's 500 futures index was off 0.3 percent in Asia.
Australia's benchmark ASX index <.AXJO> eked out a 0.2 percent gain, supported in part by record production figures from the country's biggest miner, BHP
BHP's shares edged up 0.2 percent after the miner gave an upbeat outlook for commodity prices, citing insatiable demand from China.
Ironically, most commodity prices were under pressure on Wednesday from the rise in the U.S. dollar. Oil slipped 66 cents a barrel and gold slipped to $1,131.40.
Platinum broke the mold surging to a fresh 17-month high around $1,654, helped by the launch of a new U.S.-based exchange trade fund backed by the metal.
(Additional reporting by Choonsik Yoo in Jakarta; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)