The lower risk appetite lent some support to the dollar against a basket of currencies, while oil prices edged down.
In a sea of red seen across markets, South Korea and Hong Kong topped losers and fell more than 2% each, Japan slipped 0.9% and Chinese stocks shed 1.6%. All touched milestone highs earlier this month.
“There have been some warning bells from different parts of the world as we’ve seen more lockdowns in Europe, U.S and Asia,” said Vasu Menon, senior investment strategist at OCBC Bank Wealth Management.
MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan shed 1.5% to 717.3 but was not far off a record high struck on Monday and is still up 8% so far this year. The index was on course to log its biggest fall since late November.
“You need to see delivery on the economic data front, on earnings and on enough vaccines being distributed,” Menon said, adding that uncertainty over the timing of the U.S. stimulus package was damaging market sentiment.
Simmering tensions in the Taiwan Strait and the South China Sea also added to the reasons for caution in Chinese markets, where a jump in small-cap short bets has also caught regulators’ attention.
A flood of money supply, ultra-low or zero interest rates and COVID-19 vaccine rollouts have sparked a “buy everything” rally over the last several months.
Some investors – pointing to skyrocketing prices of assets such as bitcoin or, on Monday, the soaring stockprice of short-squeezed videogame retailer Gamestop – are beginning to worry markets are entering bubble territory.
U.S. lawmakers agreed that getting COVID-19 vaccines to Americans should be a priority even as they locked horns over the size of a pandemic relief package.
Disagreements have meant months of indecision in a country suffering more than 175,000 COVID-19 cases a day with millions out of work.
On Monday, the Nasdaq index scaled a new peak but the Dow Jones Industrial Average index slipped.