A raft of disappointing earnings results helped push down global stocks markets Wednesday, as did investor uncertainty over whether European policymakers would take action to stem the continent's simmering debt crisis.
Asia stocks declined following disappointing earnings from a range of companies as the global economic outlook remained uncertain. Stocks also lost ground after Japan, Asia's second biggest economy, reported falling back into a trade deficit in July.
In early European trading, the FTSE 100 index of leading British companies lost 0.9 percent to 5,804.73 while Germany's DAX dropped 0.6 percent to 7,041.04. France's CAC 40 slipped 0.6 percent to 3,492.53. US stocks were poised to fall. Dow futures were down 0.2 percent to 13,186.00 while broader S&P 500 futures slid 0.3 percent to 1,409.70. In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index shed 0.3 percent to close at 9,131.74, while South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.4 percent to 1,935.19. Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.1 percent to 19,887.78, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 dipped 0.2 percent to 4,376.00.
In mainland China, the Shanghai Composite Index slid 0.5 percent to 2,107.71. The smaller Shenzhen Composite Index lost 0.7 percent to 884.73. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines also fell. Markets across Asia fell as poor corporate results started trickling in.
Australia's Woodside Petroleum Ltd. fell 3.1 percent after the energy company reported that first-half profit fell 1.9 percent. BHP Billiton Ltd. dipped 0.3 percent before the world's biggest mining company said after trading closed that annual profit plunged more than a third and it was putting a massive uranium and copper mine expansion on hold. Chinese car maker Geely Automobile Holdings Ltd. plunged 5.9 percent in Hong Kong after it said first-half profit was flat and trading conditions in the world's biggest auto market in the second half of 2012 "are expected to be more challenging." However, China Telecom Ltd., one of the country's three major state-owned phone carriers, rose 4.5 percent after reporting first-half profit fell a less-than-expected 8.3 percent.
In China, "slower economic growth is a general risk for shares," said Xu Xiaoyu, an analyst at China Investment Securities in Beijing. "The market will keep on being unstable. There is no support for the market to rise in the next a few months." Investors are waiting to see what happens as Greece's prime minister prepares to meet his European counterparts as he seeks to get more wiggle room on enacting painful reforms and spending cuts.
Antonis Samaras was quoted in an interview published Wednesday that he wants more time to carry out the measures, possibly setting the stage for confrontation with Germany, which has grown impatient with delays. Samaras is expected to plead his case when he meets Luxembourg Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, who chairs the eurozone finance ministers' meetings, in Athens later Wednesday. Samaras heads to Berlin and Paris on Friday and Saturday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande. Greek officials are preparing 11.5 billion euros ($14.2 billion) in spending cuts the country needs to carry out in order to receive rescue loans protecting it from bankruptcy.
"With the Greek PM's meetings kicking off later today, eyes will likely remain on Europe," strategists at Credit Agricole CIB wrote in a research note. "Given plenty of event risks, investors are likely to turn cautious." In Japan, provisional trade figures showed Japan posted a 517.4 billion euros ($6.5 billion) trade deficit in July, compared with a surplus the year before, as exports fell 8 percent. Exports of autos and electronics by Asia's second-biggest economy have been hurt by the strengthening yen as well as weak demand from Europe.
Crude oil fell 2 cents to $96.82 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 71 cents to settle at $96.68 per barrel in New York on Tuesday. In currencies, the euro rose to $1.2473 from $1.2467 late Tuesday in New York. The dollar was up to 79.33 Japanese yen from 79.42 yen.