LONDON (AP) -- Worries over the Chinese economic outlook and ongoing tensions in Ukraine ahead of a referendum in the region of Crimea rattled markets Wednesday.
The catalyst to the latest market angst was the news this week that Chinese exports slumped in February. Since China has been a voracious consumer of raw materials and energy in its industrialization drive, it's unsurprising that assets like copper and iron ore have taken the brunt of the selling. Copper has fallen to its lowest level since 2010.
Adding to the cautious mood in markets was Sunday's referendum in Crimea on whether to become part of Russia.
"A severe lack of news or data leaves investors still focusing on the apparent slowdown in China and the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine," said Craig Erlam, market analyst at Alpari.
"What we're seeing now is markets on the whole being driven by investor sentiment and as long as we don't see anything positive to act as a distraction from Ukraine and China, sentiment is likely to remain low," he added.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was down 0.9 percent at 6,625 while Germany's DAX fell 1.3 percent to 9,183. The CAC-40 in France was 1.4 percent lower at 4,291.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.2 percent at 16,313 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.3 percent to 1,862.
Oil prices also continued to drift lower, weighed by the China worries, with a barrel of benchmark crude down 1.2 percent at $98.87. Gold, however, prospered through its status as a safe haven in times of worry, trading 1.5 percent higher at $1,367 an ounce.
Earlier in Asia, Hong Kong's Hang Seng closed down 1.7 percent at 21,901.95 and China's Shanghai Composite dropped 0.2 percent to 1,997.69. South Korea's Kospi shed 1.6 percent to 1,932.54.
In Japan, the Nikkei 225 slid 2.6 percent to 14,830.39. Sentiment in Tokyo was further weighed down by the Bank of Japan's decision not to expand its already lavish monetary stimulus following a 2-day policy meeting that ended Tuesday.