LONDON (AP) -- Fears of a slowdown in both the U.S. and China, the world's two biggest economies, hurt global markets on Thursday, driving investors to book gains at the end of an otherwise profitable quarter.
Indicators out of the U.S. have disappointed in recent days, with the latest figures for orders of durable goods -- items like aircraft, kitchen appliances and construction tools -- rising less than expected in January.
Although the jobs market has been recovering slowly, the property market -- the thorn in the U.S. economy's side -- remains weak, with house prices falling.
The performance of the U.S. economy, which consumes more than any other country, is increasingly bound to that of China, which produces and exports the bulk of those goods.
So a marked deterioration in Chinese economic indicators has compounded worries that the two economies are slowing each other down. Tepid global consumption, along with rising cost of labor, energy and raw materials, is weighing on Chinese manufacturers.
The cooling in Chinese activity is particularly worrying for investors as the country had proven to be a key pillar of growth during the past years, when many advanced economies dropped into recession.
So after enjoying strong gains on stocks during the start of the year, investors appeared ready to lock in those profits by selling before the end of the financial quarter on Friday.
"After such a strong quarter, this rally is ending with a whimper rather than a bang, perhaps understandably given the run up in global markets," said Chris Beauchamp, market analyst at IG Index.
In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 was 0.7 percent lower at 5,766, Germany's DAX lost 1.2 percent to 6,916 and France's CAC-40 slipped 1 percent to 3,397. The euro was down 0.3 percent at $1.3279.
Wall Street was poised for a lower opening too, with both Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures down 0.2 percent.
In Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index fell 0.7 percent to 10,114.79 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng tumbled 1.3 percent to 20,609.39.
Mainland Chinese shares spiraled downward amid dwindling hopes that monetary policy will be loosened to offset the economic slowdown. The benchmark Shanghai Composite Index lost 1.4 percent to 2,252.16 and the Shenzhen Composite Index lost 1.6 percent to 895.07.
Benchmark crude oil was down 48 cents to $104.93 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract fell $1.92 to end at $105.41 per barrel on the Nymex on Wednesday after France's government said it is considering a release of emergency stockpiles as part of a U.S.-led effort to ease the recent climb in prices.
Pamela Sampson in Bangkok contributed to this report.