Global stock markets moved cautiously Wednesday as geopolitical risks continued to gnaw at investor sentiment following last week's US missile strike on Syria and soaring tensions on the Korean peninsula.
Dealers remained on edge over a brewing crisis following the attack in Syria that has damaged ties between the US and Russia over Moscow's backing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Growing uncertainty ahead of a presidential election in France also kept investors on the sidelines, as did friction between the United States and China over how to manage North Korea's nuclear program.
"Ongoing geopolitical tensions across the globe and heightened political risk in Europe have limited appetite for riskier assets this week, with global stocks now on the back foot," said Lukman Otunuga, an analyst at FXTM.
And Greg McKenna, chief market strategist at CFD and FX provider, AxiTrader, said, "The reality is there is a sense of risk aversion rising in markets."
As stock markets wobbled, safe-haven investments gold and government bonds firmed.
The dollar, meanwhile, retreated after President Donald Trump told the Wall Street Journal he was worried about a strong greenback.
Trump also said he favored low interest rates and left open the possibility he might reappoint Janet Yellen as Federal Reserve chair after signaling in the campaign that he would probably replace her.
The article also quoted Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as saying the president was "very close" to filling vacancies on the Fed board.
"Chances are he’ll be nominating doves," said BK Asset Management Kathy Lien, referring to monetary policymakers who are more reluctant to raise interest rates, rather than "hawks" who are more worried about inflation.
"It's not the first time that President Trump criticized the strong dollar but when coupled with his plans to bring in more doves, it created the perfect catalyst for a late day slide in the greenback."
Among individual companies, struggling Japanese industrial giant Toshiba fell 1.0 percent after it reported an unaudited loss of $4.8 billion in long-overdue financial results for the nine months to December 2016. Toshiba also warned of the likelihood of a worsening financial situation and said its survival was at risk.
United Airlines lost 1.1 percent as chief executive Oscar Munoz apologized again after the airline forcibly removed a passenger on an overbooked flight Sunday. But Munoz said he had no plans to step down.
Tesla Motors slumped 3.9 percent following news that a group of investors are lobbying the company to add new, independent members to the board to offset the influence of chief executive and co-founder Elon Musk.
- Key figures at 2100 GMT -
New York - Dow: DOWN 0.3 percent at 20,591.86 (close)
New York - S&P 500: DOWN 0.4 percent at 2,344.93 (close)
New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 0.5 percent at 5,836.16 (close)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.2 percent at 7,348.99 (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.1 percent at 12,154.70 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: FLAT at 5,101.11 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: FLAT at 3,468.51 (close)
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 1.0 percent at 18,552.61 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.9 percent at 24,313.5 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.5 percent at 3,273.83 (close)
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.0671 from $1.0606
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.2544 from $1.2494
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 109.07 yen from 109.64 yen
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 29 cents at $53.11 per barrel
Oil - Brent North Sea: DOWN 37 cents at $55.86 per barrel