The dollar hit a two-week high against the euro, commodities fell and Asian stock markets reacted nervously on Tuesday when data revealed slower business activity in Germany and China, the world's two biggest exporters, fuelling global growth fears.
The flash HSBC Purchasing Managers' Index for China in April fell to 50.5 in April from 51.6 in March but was still stronger than February's reading of 50.4, suggesting that the world's second-largest economy still faces formidable global headwinds into the second quarter.
A sub-index measuring new export orders fell to 48.6 in April from 50.5 in March, reflecting weaker global demand.
The figures follow an unexpected contraction in export orders in March to Taiwan, one of the region's biggest providers of tech gadgets, signalling that Asia's trade-reliant economies may be losing further momentum.
Exports from South Korea, another big supplier to the global tech industry, fell by 3.1% for the first 20 days of April from a year earlier.
The PMIs for the euro area showed that business activity in Germany shrank for the first time in five months in April, while a broader gauge of the wider 17-nation zone showed the region still mired in recession. A similar survey for US manufacturing is due later in the day and is expected to show that growth in factory activity there slowed slightly this month.
"New export orders contracted after a temporary rebound in March, suggesting external demand for China's exporters remains weak," said HSBC's China chief economist Qu Hongbin. "Beijing is expected to respond strongly to sustain the economic recovery by increasing efforts to boost domestic investment and consumption in the coming months."
Asian stocks reacted with gloom, and crude oil and gold followed suit. Hong Kong shares slid 1.2% and Shanghai tumbled 2.2%. Japan's Nikkei eased 0.2% as investors took profits from Monday's nearly five-year highs.
Brent crude fell below $100 a barrel on Tuesday.