Wall Street stocks faltered in the first session of 2021 on Monday, pulling back from records on anxiety over the Georgia Senate runoffs and worries about a worsening Covid-19 outlook.
After a positive session for many European and Asian equity markets, US stocks had a muted open before falling sharply at midday and staying in the red the rest of the day.
Chris Low, chief economist at FHN Financial, said investors are monitoring Senate runoff elections in Georgia and anxious their outcome could be different from the divided government framework investors generally prefer to one-party rule.
Polls show both Senate races remain very close, leaving the possibility Republicans could maintain control of the chamber, or that it could go into Democratic hands, which would give incoming President-elect Joe Biden's party control of Congress.
"Traders start to get nervous when either party has a clear shot at getting things done," said Low, who cited tax policy as one area of special concern for investors.
Analysts also pointed to unease over the worsening public health situation, with elevated coronavirus cases coming at a time when many US hospitals are already at or near capacity.
The rollout of vaccines has also been more problem-filled than expected, potentially slowing down the recovery. Shares fell for several recovery-linked equities, such as Marriott International and United Airlines.
In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a six-week lockdown for England's 56 million people, including the closure of schools, after a surge in coronavirus cases brought warnings that hospitals could soon face collapse.
The announcement came after European markets closed, with London's FTSE 100 shares index gaining 1.7 percent on the first day since Britain finalized a divorce from the European Union, as dealers noted no signs of the Brexit chaos some had feared.
In London, the pound briefly reached a 2.5-year peak at $1.3704 before pulling back against both the dollar and the euro.
Oil prices fell as traders focused on virtual talks among oil producers.
Members of the OPEC group and their partners ended discussions on Monday without an agreement on crude production levels for February. Talks were expected to resume on Tuesday.
Bitcoin retreated to around $31,000, a day after surging to an all-time high of near $35,000.
- M&A in focus -
European stocks were also propelled by merger and acquisition activity.
British betting company Entain, which owns high street chain Ladbrokes, revealed it had turned down a takeover offer worth £8.0 billion ($10.9 billion, 8.9 billion euros) from US casino giant MGM.
The news sent Entain's share price soaring by more than 25 percent to 1,420 pence, topping the FTSE 100 risers board. MGM fell 5.7 percent during the US session.
In Paris, shareholders in French automaker PSA almost unanimously approved a merger with US-Italian group Fiat Chrysler, a deal that will create the world's fourth-largest carmaker by volume.
PSA shares won 1.7 percent to 22.75 euros in Paris, while Fiat shares added 1.5 percent to 14.88 euros in Milan.
- Key figures around 2150 GMT -
New York - Dow: DOWN 1.3 percent at 30,223.89 (close)
New York - S&P 500: DOWN 1.5 percent at 3,700.65 (close)
New York - Nasdaq: DOWN 1.5 percent at 12,698.45 (close)
London - FTSE 100: UP 1.7 percent at 6,571.88 (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP less than 0.1 percent at 13,726.74 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.7 percent at 5,588.96 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.3 percent at 3,564.39 (close)
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.7 percent at 27,258.38 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.9 percent at 27,472.81 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.9 percent at 3,502.96 (close)
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3575 from $1.3672 at 2200 GMT
Euro/pound: UP at 90.20 pence from 89.34 pence
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2243 from $1.2215
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.14 yen from 103.20 yen
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 1.9 percent at $47.62 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 1.4 percent at $51.09