The latest manufacturing data from the US, China and Europe has done little to inspire confidence in the recovery of the global economy.
Markit said its US "flash," or preliminary, manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index was at 51.5 in September, unchanged from August. The index averaged 51.5 in the three months to September, down from the 54.2 in the previous quarter - its weakest performance since the third quarter of 2009.
"I don't think the economy is going anywhere fast," Ryan Sweet, a senior economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester, Pennsylvania, told Reuters. "The jobs market is still very difficult and manufacturing, which was a key pillar of the recovery, is beginning to crack."
Other reports released today also dimmed the outlook. Jobless claims were higher than expected, declining only by 3,000 in the week ended September 15 to 382,000, according to Labor Department figures.
Separately, factory activity in the Mid-Atlantic shrank for a fifth straight month in September.
In late afternoon trading in New York, stocks were mixed: the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.07 per cent, the Standard & Poor's 500 fell 0.24 per cent and the Nasdaq Composite Index declined 0.28 per cent.
In Europe, the Stoxx 600 Index edged 0.2 per cent lower from the previous close, while the euro was last 0.7 per cent weaker at US$1.2955 amid disappointing EU manufacturing data.
The Markit Eurozone PMI Composite Output Index fell to 45.9 in September, from 46.3 in August, according to preliminary data. The index signalled that the private sector economy contracted for the twelfth time in the past 13 months, with the rate of decline accelerating slightly to reach the fastest since June 2009, according to Markit.
The median estimate of economists surveyed by Bloomberg had called for a reading of 46.6.
And in China, the manufacturing industry will contract in September, according to the preliminary readings of a purchasing managers' index by HSBC Holdings and Markit.
Meantime, the EU's debt crisis continues to keep investors on the defensive. Demand was muted for Spain's debt auction today. Spain sold 3.94 billion euros of new benchmark notes due in October 2015 at an average yield of 3.85 per cent, compared with 3.68 per cent at the previous auction on September 6, according to Bloomberg.
Demand fell to 1.56 times the amount sold, down from a so-called bid-to- cover ratio of 1.76 times. The country also sold 858 million euros of 10-year bonds.
The auction results are being taken as an indication that investors believe the country should make a request for an EU bailout sooner rather than later.
"The longer Spain prevaricates in terms of requesting a bailout the greater the chance that the bailout premium, as it were, will be priced out of the market," Richard McGuire, a senior fixed-income strategist at Rabobank International in London, told Bloomberg. "Yields will rise and the curve will flatten back, forcing the government to make that request."