World stocks hit their lowest in six weeks on Wednesday and oil prices fell after China's November factory activity shrank at its sharpest pace in 32 months, reviving fears of an abrupt slowdown for the world's second largest economy.
Adding to global growth concerns, manufacturing in European heavyweight Germany contracted for a second straight month, and at a faster rate, as export demand slumped.
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However, the rush to safe-haven assets has pushed returns on them so low that they are less attractive to hold.
Germany's debt auction on Wednesday was technically uncovered, sending the yields on 10-year German Bunds 5.5 basis points higher to 1.964 percent -- still lower than inflation. Meanwhile the euro zone's sovereign debt crisis is eating into business and consumer confidence as well as leaving investors with ever decreasing options.
"The souffle we hoped we were going to eat is collapsing in front of us. We had hoped for a soft landing in China, better figures out of the United States and progress in Europe," Justin Urquhart Stewart, director at Seven Investment Management, said.
The evidence of weakening in China, whose rapid growth has provided a major prop for the world economy, came a day after the United States cut its third quarter growth figure.
The euro was down 0.9 percent at $1.3388 after a newspaper said France, Belgium and Luxembourg were in talks on how to provide temporary state debt guarantees for failed financial group Dexia, stirring worries France will face a further fiscal burden.
The dollar, which has been benefiting from recent investor unease, rose 0.7 percent against a basket of major currencies to hit its highest in six weeks.
"Dexia and the Chinese flash PMI are the two factors that are driving a risk-off trade," said Jeremy Stretch, head of currency strategy at CIBC World Markets.
"Euro flash PMIs are not looking good and this will not help either. Model funds are looking to buy dollars and investors will be looking to sell into any rebound in the euro."
STOCKS HIT SIX-WEEK LOW
World stocks measured by the MSCI All-Country World Index fell 0.7 percent to their lowest level since Oct. 10.
The global gauge was down for the eighth straight session, its longest losing run since late July and early August when the debt crisis that began in Greece two years ago spread to Italy. The world index has lost 13.8 percent this year.
Europe's FTSEurofirst 300 slipped 0.5 percent, while Japan's Nikkei average eased 0.4 percent.
Brent crude dropped 1.1 percent to trade below $108 a barrel, while copper prices slipped 1.4 percent to above $7,200 a tonne.
Gold eased 0.7 percent after rising 1.1 percent the previous session. The precious metal has risen nearly 20 percent this year, on track for its 11th straight year of gains.
However, the pace of deterioration in European, U.S. and Japanese companies' earnings momentum moderated, Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S data showed, indicating analysts' downbeat outlook on corporate profitability had eased, which may give equities some support amid the concerns over the euro zone debt crisis.
The data showed earnings momentum -- analysts' upgrades minus downgrades as a percentage of total estimates -- for STOXX Europe 600 companies was -15 percent, versus -19.8 percent a month ago.
S&P 500 companies' earnings momentum moderated to -3.4 percent from -18.2 percent last month, while that for Japan's Topix companies was -8.5 percent, from -11.2 percent in October.