Americans increased their retail spending in July by the most in five months, a gain of 0.8 percent over June, according to government figures released Tuesday. That's a potentially positive sign for the world's biggest economy as consumer spending is a mainstay of its growth.
But data showing stagnant inventories among U.S. companies, a sign that businesses remain wary of the future, tempered optimism. Concerns about China and Europe also weighed on sentiment.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index was down 0.7 percent at 8,868.03 and Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 1.3 percent to 20,026.53. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.4 percent to 4,274.70. Markets in South Korea and India were closed for public holidays.
Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and mainland China fell. New Zealand and Indonesia rose.
"China's economy is slowing down, this is a concern," said Dickie Wong, executive director for research at Kingston Securities Ltd. In Hong Kong. "But it gives more room for the central bank of China to act and to do something to ease monetary policy."
A gloomy picture out of Europe also compounded worries. Although Germany, Europe's biggest economy, posted surprise growth of 0.3 percent in the second quarter on Tuesday, it was not enough to prevent the combined economy of the 17 countries that use the euro from contracting 0.2 percent.
Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus and Portugal are all in recession and all five are on the front-lines of Europe's debt crisis. France's economy was stagnant in the second quarter, underscoring concerns that it too is hovering on the edge of recession. It was the third-straight quarter without growth.
Analysts at Capital Economics said in an email commentary that "the big picture is that the economic growth required to bring the region's debt crisis to an end is still nowhere in sight."
Over the past few weeks, stocks, as well as the euro and the price of oil, have gained on hopes the world's major central banks will do more to shore up the global economy.
Many economists believe the U.S. Federal Reserve will try to stimulate the economy by launching another program of buying government bonds and mortgage-backed securities to keep interest rates low. They will be closely watching Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke's speech on Aug. 31 at an annual economic conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.
Among individual stocks, Japan's Sharp Corp. plunged 11.9 percent and Panasonic Corp. fell 4.1 percent amid reports that the country's major electronics makers were cutting forecasts due to a slump in demand.
On Wall Street on Tuesday, the Dow Jones industrial average edged up marginally to 13,172.14. The Standard & Poor's 500 index was slightly down at 1,403.93. The Nasdaq composite index lost 0.2 percent to 3,016.98.
Benchmark oil was down 45 cents to $92.99 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 70 cents to end at $93.43 a barrel on the Nymex on Tuesday.
In currency trading, the euro fell to $1.2322 from $1.2330 in late trading Tuesday in New York. The dollar slipped to 78.78 yen from 78.79 yen.