NEW YORK World equity markets slid and safe-haven U.S. Treasury debt rose on Tuesday as a looming battle in Washington over the government's borrowing limit and a recovery in the yen weakened demand for riskier assets.
Investors were cautious as Republican opposition in Congress to increase the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling raises the risk that the United States could default on its debt in coming months.
A warning by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke on the economic effects of any failure to agree to a higher ceiling, a Treasury prediction the limit could be hit by mid-February and President Barack Obama's tough negotiating stance hit equity markets, which have gained since the New Year.
"There's a little bit of a risk-off trade," said Thomas Graff, fixed-income portfolio manager at Brown Advisory in Baltimore. "It looks like stocks reacting negatively to the wrangling over the U.S. debt ceiling, so Treasuries are higher."
Still, the likelihood of the United States not raising the debt ceiling and declaring default is "very low," Graff said.
The Dow Jones industrial average was down 6.76 points, or 0.05 percent, at 13,500.56. The Standard & Poor's 500 Index was down 1.62 points, or 0.11 percent, at 1,469.06. The Nasdaq Composite Index was down 10.31 points, or 0.33 percent, at 3,107.19.
Weak results from software company SAP (SAPG.DE) pulled technology stocks down, with Germany's benchmark DAX index falling to a 2013 low, but European shares ended flat.
SAP took the most points off the FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares and hit the STOXX Europe 600 technology index, which fell 2.1 percent to make it the region's worst-performing equity sector.
The Eurofirst 300 index of top shares closed 0.04 percent higher at a provisional 1,160.22 after a late-day rally pared losses.
The MSCI world equity index slipped 0.05 percent to 349.85, still near an 18-month high.
World equity markets and corporate bonds have risen sharply this year on a widely held view that the Federal Reserve's supportive monetary policies will boost the U.S. economic recovery while keeping returns on safe-haven assets such as Treasuries low.
The benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note was up 5/32 in price to yield 1.829 percent.
A contraction in New York state manufacturing for a sixth straight month in January also weighed on stocks, even as U.S. retail sales rose solidly in December, suggesting momentum in consumer spending as the year ended.
Other U.S. data on Tuesday showed inflation pressures remained muted, with wholesale prices declining for a third straight month in December.
The yen gained against the dollar, rebounding from four straight days of losses that pushed it to a 2-1/2 year low, as a warning from a Japanese minister about the disadvantages of excessive yen weakness prompted investors to shed bearish bets.
The dollar was down 0.88 percent at 88.67 against the yen. The euro was down 0.35 percent at $1.3335.
Brent crude oil fell 95 cents to $110.93, while U.S. light sweet crude oil fell 39 cents to $93.75 per barrel.
Spot gold prices rose $15.29 to $1,682.00.
(Reporting by Herbert Lash; Editing by Dan Grebler)