Japanese shares were the standout once again on Monday as the yen's depreciation gathered pace. Markets elsewhere steadied following a sell-off at the end of last week after disappointing U.S. jobs data.
With tensions mounting on the Korean peninsula, an outbreak of bird flu in China and Portugal under pressure to make more spending cuts, sentiment in the markets remains fragile.
"There's no shortage of geopolitical factors in play right now, ranging from the threat of all-out war in North Korea to the latest chapter in the eurozone saga," said Fawad Razaqzada, market strategist at GFT Markets.
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares was up 0.3 percent at 6,268 while Germany's DAX was barely higher at 7,661. The CAC-40 in France was 0.3 percent higher at 3,674.
One stock market in Europe that was on the wane was Portugal's PSI 20, which was trading 1.4 percent lower after the prime minister announced that the country will have to make more spending cuts because the Constitutional Court blocked parts of its budget plan.
In the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.3 percent at 14,518 while the broader S&P 500 index fell 0.2 percent to 1,551. On Friday, stocks suffered after a government report showed that U.S. employers added just 88,000 jobs in March, half the average of the previous six months.
The closely watched report, issued Friday, was a letdown for investors, who had become more optimistic about the economy after recent positive signs on housing.
In terms of scheduled news, Monday will be fairly quiet in the U.S. but that won't last long. Aluminum giant Alcoa Inc. kicks off another U.S. corporate earnings reporting season after the markets close.
"We should get a better indication of company optimism on this point as U.S. earnings season starts," said Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets.
As well as a run of earnings this week, investors expect to get a steer from the U.S. Federal Reserve about whether the central bank plans to withdraw some of its monetary stimulus. Minutes to the last policy meeting of the Fed are due to be published Wednesday.
Earlier in Asia, investors had a raft of issues to deal with as well as their first response to Friday's U.S. payrolls figures.
The Nikkei in Tokyo piled on more gains as the yen's dramatic fall boosted the country's powerhouse export sector. The Japanese yen has weakened sharply since last Thursday's decision by the Bank of Japan to overhaul its monetary policy in a bid to snap Japan out of years of deflation.
The Nikkei 225 in Tokyo shot up 2.8 percent to close at 13,192.59, its highest close since August 2008. The dollar vaulted to 98.55 yen from 94.13 yen late Friday in New York. The last time the dollar was 100 yen was four years ago.
A weaker currency can help make Japanese exports more price competitive in overseas markets. Suzuki Motor Corp. surged 8.1 percent. Sharp Corp. advanced 7.3 percent.
Elsewhere, South Korea's Kospi lost 0.4 percent to close at 1,918.69, its lowest level since November 2012 as tensions between the two Koreas remained elevated. North Korea has for weeks been threatening military or other action to punish South Korea and the U.S. for holding joint military drills.
"Compared to the past, the hostility of North Korea this time is extraordinary in some measures. In this regard, there is an impact to our financial markets to a certain degree," Hyun Oh-seok, South Korea's finance minister, told reporters. "We are closely monitoring the impact on financial markets and the economy."
Foreign investors sold more South Korean stocks than they bought for the fourth straight session Monday, while the local currency lost value as investors see growing risks of war on the Korean Peninsula. The dollar rose to 1,140.10 won, its highest level since July 26.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng index bounced between gains and losses as investors sized up the potential threat from an outbreak of a new bird flu strain that has sickened 21 people, killing six of them. All cases have been reported in the eastern part of China. The Hang Seng fell marginally to close at 21,718.05.
Health officials believe people are contracting the virus through direct contact with infected fowl and say there's no evidence the virus is spreading easily between people.
Oil prices edged higher, with the benchmark New York rate up 28 cents at $92.98 barrel.
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