U.S. shares also were set to drift lower, with Dow futures down 0.3 percent at 25,581. S&P 500 futures lost 0.2 percent to 2,765. Disappointing economic reports, uncertainty over trade and fears of a slowdown in economic growth have been weighing on the market the past couple weeks. Investors were also cautious ahead of a European Central Bank policy meeting Thursday.
Meanwhile, hopes that the U.S. and China will soon resolve their trade dispute has faded, though officials have hinted that some kind of agreement could be finalized by the end of March. News that the U.S. trade deficit jumped 19 percent in December, widening the figure to a decade-long high of $621 billion, also rattled the markets.
"Things aren't going to plan in Trump's tariff world with U.S. trade data overnight showing the trade deficit blew out to a 10-year high in 2018," Jeffrey Halley of Oanda said in a commentary. "Whether this hardens the President's attitude to a structural deal with the China trade talks or he chooses a quick win is hard to say," he added.
In Asia, Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 slipped 0.7 percent to finish at 21,456.01 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 0.9 percent to 28,779.45. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 edged up 0.3 percent to 6,263.90, while South Korea's Kospi dropped 0.5 percent to 2,165.79. The Shanghai Composite gained 0.1 percent to 3,106.42.
ENERGY: U.S. crude added 58 cents to $56.80 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 84 cents to $66.83 a barrel in London.
CURRENCIES: The dollar fell to 111.69 yen from 111.86 yen Wednesday. The euro strengthened to $1.1308 from $1.1304.
Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter at https://twitter.com/yurikageyama
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