Asian stocks fell on Tuesday, retreating from record highs as lingering concerns about potential roadblocks to the Biden administration's $1.9 trillion stimulus weighed on sentiment, dragging US Treasury yields to three-weeks lows.
The lower risk appetite lent some support to the dollar against a basket of currencies, while oil prices edged down.
EUROSTOXX 50 futures eased 0.1% while FTSE futures added 0.03%, indicating a mixed open for European stock markets. E-Mini futures for the S&P 500 ESc1 shed 0.5%.
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 US 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.
US 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.
"We suspect earnings may not be able to catch up with what people expect this year," said Jacob Doo, chief investment officer at Envysion Wealth Management, citing the lockdowns in Europe and the slow roll-out of vaccines in the United States.
"Within the tech space, we are cautious on FANGS now, simply because there could be anti-trust laws that Biden would implement," Doo said.
Focus will also shift to the Federal Reserve's Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday.
"We expect the January FOMC to repeat and reinforce the Fed's existing dovishness, which is still significant given the recent taper discussions and other central banks' considerations to adapt policy," Ebrahim Rahbari, FX strategist at CitiFX, said in a report.
The dollar advanced to a near one-week high against a basket of currencies, as volatility in stocks sapped investors' appetite for riskier currencies. The euro dipped to $1.2127.
Benchmark 10-year US Treasury yields slipped a fraction to head back toward Monday's three-week low, last trading at 1.0381%.
Brent crude fell 0.7% to $55.50 per barrel, having risen nearly 1% on Monday.