European shares hit a three-month low in early trade and Asian stocks too dropped on Friday, while U.S. futures headed lower, after a powerful 8.9-magnitude earthquake has struck off Japan's northeastern coast, triggering a tsunami as high as 10 metres.
The news from Japan further worsened the market sentiment amid growing unrest in the Middle East and weak economic data. U.S. stocks plunged on Thursday on weaker-than-expected economic data and concerns over the impact on oil prices in the midst of conflict in Libya.
Futures on major U.S. stock indices point to lower opening on Friday, with futures on the S&P 500 down 5.80 points, futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average down 61.00 points and Nasdaq100 futures falling 12.00 points.
On the currency front, the greenback fell 0.31 percent against the yen to 82.7250, while the euro lost 0.0096 percent to 1.3796 against the dollar.
Crude oil futures fell 0.64 percent to $102.04/barrel while gold futures rose 0.07 percent.
European stock markets are currently trading in the red with U.K. FTSE 100 down by 22.19 points, German DAX30 losing 64.61 points and French CAC 40 down by 26.69 points.
European insurance stocks slumped on prospects of big losses after the huge quake and tsuami in Japan. Shares in Munich Re fell 4.6 percent, while Swiss Re plunged 5 percent.
Markets are in a correction mode. If you get natural disasters at a time when the markets are worried about something else, they can compound the worries, Bernard McAlinden, investment strategist at NCB Stockbrokers, in Dublin told Reuters.
The quake struck just before the close of Tokyo stock trading. Japan's Nikkei closed the session down 1.72 percent, or 179.95 points, at 10,254.43.
Japanese stocks will probably fall on Monday, especially of those companies that have factories in the affected areas, but on the whole the sell-off will likely be short-lived, Mitsuhsige Akino, a fund manager at Ichiyoshi Investment Management, told Reuters.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng dropped 1.8 percent following the earthquake.
The Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.15 percent. Higher-than-expected inflation data from China also weighed on sentiment. Data from the National Bureau of Statistics said inflation rose 4.9 percent in February, in line with the prior month and slightly higher than economists' expectations.
India's BSE Sensex shed 0.86 percent or 157.18 points at 18,170.80. The NSE Nifty fell 53.05 points at 5441.35.