Tokyo - Asian shares eased on Tuesday on worries about slowing global growth after Germany's business confidence fell in September for a fifth consecutive month and Caterpillar, the world's largest earth-moving equipment maker, cut its earnings forecast.
Uncertainty about bailout prospects for Greece and Spain as the eurozone's three-year-long debt crisis rumbles on also weighed on investors' risk appetite.
But a 0.2% rise in US stock futures hinted at a firm Wall Street start, and financial spreadbetters expected London's FTSE 100, Paris's CAC-40 and Frankfurt's DAX to open as much as 0.4% higher.
The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was choppy, caught in a plus 0.1% and minus 0.2% range.
A weak outlook for industrial metals weighed on resources-reliant Australian shares, which fell 0.3%. Growth concerns pushed Hong Kong shares down 0.1% in light trading while Shanghai shares fell 0.3% as a record injection of funds into the system by China's central bank pushed back expectations for a cut in banks' reserve requirements.
Oil, copper and gold rebounded from the previous day's losses while the euro steadied. But the safe-haven yen firmed against the dollar.
"It's incredibly difficult to ascertain what fair prices are when central banks are completely distorting financial realities by just throwing money at problems and trying to squeeze growth out of awfully over-indebted private sectors and public sectors," said David Baran, co-founder of Tokyo-based hedge fund Symphony Financial Partners.
"That makes it very hard for investors to have confidence in what they are doing, and clearly that's why you are seeing a race to the safest perceived instruments," he said.
Tokyo's Nikkei average edged down 0.2% in thin volume, after hitting a fresh one-week low earlier.
The German Ifo institute's monthly business sentiment index fell to its lowest since early 2010, fuelling concerns the damage from the debt crisis was spreading to Europe's core economy.
"It is difficult to see what could encourage buyers to push the market higher. Market participants currently seem satisfied to take profits on recent gains," said Stan Shamu, a market strategist at IG Markets.
Citing weakness in the world economy, Caterpillar cut its 2015 earnings forecast, raising chances of weak guidance from other firms in the run up to the US earnings reporting season.
Markets had welcomed additional stimulus packages from the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of Japan, as well as the European Central Bank's move aimed at easing the burden of heavily indebted eurozone states seeking aid.
But investors soon shifted their focus back to the weak economic fundamentals which drove central banks into action in the first place.
Deputy finance ministers and central bankers of the Group of 20 wealthy and leading emerging nations agreed that central bank stimulus was not enough to fix the ailing global economy.
The International Monetary Fund's Managing Director Christine Lagarde said on Monday the IMF is set to cut its forecast for global growth next month when it updates its projections for the world economy. The IMF/World Bank meetings will be held in Tokyo on October 12-14.
The Bank of Japan's current account balance hit a record high of ¥44.21 trillion on Monday, as the bank further eased its already very loose policy last week.
But the accommodative stance has not weakened the yen, which traded at a one-week high of ¥77.76 against the dollar, while the dollar has felt the Fed's easing effect, with US Treasuries' yields inching lower.
The euro edged down 0.1% to $1.2912 as investors waited for Spain to present its draft budget plan for 2013 and unveil new structural reforms, as well as the results of stress tests on the country's banking sector.
Spain has come under renewed pressure from markets, and risks a downgrade of its sovereign debt rating to junk status by ratings agency Moody's, which is expected to announce its review soon. Madrid also faces a €27.5bn refinancing at the end of October.
Madrid has not made clear whether or not it would seek an external sovereign bailout, and EU officials said Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy was not expected to do so before a regional election in his native Galicia on October 21.
Another typical safe-haven asset, gold, steadied at $1 763.66 per ounce, after falling on Monday as investors took profits from the jump in prices to $1 87.20 per ounce on Friday, their highest since February 29.
US crude rose 0.2% to $92.13 a barrel, while Brent added 0.1% to $109.93.
London copper rose 0.4% to $8 215 a tonne.
Asian credit markets softened slightly, pushing the spread on the iTraxx Asia ex-Japan investment-grade index wider by 2 basis points.
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