Asian stocks sank on Tuesday, with Shanghai tumbling more than three percent, following another batch of data showing weakness in China's economy, while gold and the yen advanced as fears over the world economy sent investors into safer assets.
Traders are also keeping an eye on the release Friday of a crucial US jobs report, which could play a key role in the Federal Reserve's decision on whether to raise interest rates next month, adding to market uncertainty.
There are fears a rate hike will further jolt confidence in the global economy, which has already been rocked by the rout in Chinese stock markets.
"Investors are concerned about the strength of the global economy, which is why you're seeing a sell-off in various stock markets," Ayako Sera, a strategist at Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Bank Ltd. in Tokyo, said. "Investors are also taking a cautious stance."
Shanghai dived 3.20 percent after China's statistics bureau said its Purchasing Managers' Index (PMI) of manufacturing activity came in at 49.7 last month, its lowest since August 2012.
While the figure is better than last week's preliminary private reading from Chinese media group Caixin -- which hit a six-and-a-half-year low -- it is still below the 50-point mark that indicates contraction.
The indexes are seen as key barometers of the Asian giant's economic health, a key driver of global growth.
Other regional markets followed suit, with Hong Kong losing 0.92 percent, Tokyo down 2.38 percent by lunch, Sydney shedding 1.23 percent and Seoul 1.11 percent lower.
"The manufacturing index still shows that the economy is in the process of seeking a bottom," said Wu Kan, a Shanghai-based fund manager at JK Life Insurance. "The market is unlikely to pick up anytime soon."
- Shift to safety -
China's stock markets have slumped 40 percent since hitting a June 12 peak as investors grow concerned about high valuations and the strength of the world's number two economy.
The extreme volatility has convulsed global stocks and has pushed up the price of investments considered safe, including the yen and bullion.
On Tuesday the dollar fell to 120.90 yen from 121.24 yen in New York trade Monday, while gold traded at $1,140.45, against $1,131.62 late Monday.
Oil prices tumbled in Asia after recording gains of more than 25 percent over the previous three sessions.
US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for October delivery fell $1.50, or three percent, to $47.70 and Brent crude for October tumbled $1.46, or 2.7 percent, to $52.69 a barrel.
The black gold, which had already posted massive gains on Thursday and Friday, surged Monday after the US Department of Energy said domestic output in June was much lower than first stated, while monthly estimates for January-May were revised lower.
Also, a statement from the OPEC oil cartel to the effect that the continuing downward pressure on prices "remains a cause for concern" fuelled hopes it will lower its own output levels.
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, responsible for about 40 percent of global crude production, tied the price pressure to higher production and market speculation.
"Needless to say, OPEC, as always, will continue to do all in its power to create the right enabling environment for the oil market to achieve equilibrium with fair and reasonable prices," OPEC said in a monthly report.