[NEW YORK] Shares on Wall Street eked out gains on Wednesday after markets in much of the rest of the world tumbled on fresh signs of stagnant growth.
US markets barely ended in the black, the S&P 500 adding only 0.1 per cent, weighed down by a worse-than-expected auto sales report for May which sent shares of the major producers General Motors, Ford and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sinking.
The mood was colored by the lack of significant improvement in purchasing manager index reports for manufacturing activity in China, the eurozone and the United States.
In each case the PMI showed little growth in the sector, a sign that efforts to boost the global economy are not gaining traction yet.
"Almost every PMI in the major manufacturing powerhouses is between 48 and 52. Anything that close to 50 is so close that no one can tell the difference," said Michael Montgomery at IHS Global Insight.
That helped drive the 1.6 per cent fall in Tokyo, a 0.1 per cent loss in Shanghai, and losses of 0.6-0.7 per cent in Europe's main markets.
Tokyo stocks were also hurt by a surging yen ahead of an announcement by Japan's prime minister that delays a sales tax rise threatening the nation's fragile economy.
"It's been an unhappy start to June for equity markets with big slides across the board led by basic resource stocks and weakness in commodity prices, as concerns about the global economy reassert themselves once more," said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets UK.
Japanese mobile carrier SoftBank boosted its shares with the announcement that it would pay down some of its US$108 billion in debt by selling at least US$7.9 billion of its stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba.
That move though hit both the shares of Alibaba, which lost 7.0 per cent, and Yahoo, which lost 3.4 per cent. Struggling Yahoo's most valuable asset is its US$31 billion stake in Alibaba.
A swing in British polls showing that those favoring "leave" in the June 23 referendum on breaking with the European Union also put a damper on equities trade and sent the pound tumbling further.
After scaling back from a February low of about US$1.38 to nearly US$1.47 last week on confidence that Brexit would be voted down, the pound has tumbled again, losing 0.5 per cent on Wednesday to US$1.4411.
"In a case of deja vu... two further Brexit polls have weighed on the pound, as the currency's sensitivity seemingly increases as the referendum date approaches," said XTB analyst David Cheetham.
Markets meanwhile have their eyes on the meeting of the European Central Bank on Thursday and the US May jobs report on Friday.
"Market participants are making the choice to pocket their gains ahead of big macroeconomic events at the end of this week," said analyst Yoav Nizard at FXCM currency brokerage.