Chinese manufacturing slumped for a fifth month in March and the Euro zone economy is showing new signs of wilting, according to surveys revealed this week that pointed to weakening global demand.
Only the US is showing signs of momentum among the world's top economies, underlined by data showing jobless claims fell to a fresh four-year low last week.
That was reinforced by a report from the New York-based Conference Board showing its leading economic index climbed 0.7% during February. It was a fifth straight monthly rise, the best string of gains since the US economy was coming out of recession in 2009.
The batch of purchasing managers indexes suggested China and Europe will not contribute to a global upturn any time soon. Factory activity in China shrank for a fifth straight month in March, hit by declining order books, disappointing exports and new hiring hitting a two-year low.
By contrast, there is more evidence the US jobs market is improving, with initial jobless claims falling by 5,000 to 348,000 last week - the smallest number since February 2008 and in contrast to expectations for a rise.
China's slowdown partly reflects the weakness of economies in Europe. The PMIs suggested a Euro zone recession is now unavoidable.
German and French manufacturing, which this time last year spearheaded the Euro zone's recovery, suffered a sharp decline that even the most pessimistic economists failed to predict.
The HSBC flash purchasing managers index, the earliest indicator of China's industrial activity, fell back to 48.1 from February's four-month high of 49.6, firmly below the 50 mark that divides contraction and growth.
The survey added weight to a string of downbeat anecdotes from major corporations on the world's No 2 economy. BHP Billiton, the world's biggest miner, said it was seeing signs of flattening iron ore demand from China.
Broad-based weakness in the five key components that generate the Chinese PMI index surprised analysts, particularly those who had anticipated a clear-cut rebound in factory activity in March after the Lunar New Year disrupted output in the first two months and distorted the data.
Markit's Euro zone Composite PMI declined unexpectedly to 48.7 in March from 49.3 in February, a full point below economists' consensus of 49.7 and capping the first quarter of the year in disappointing style. Most worryingly, the surveys suggested business activity in France and Germany is starting to flag, with job losses mounting across the bloc at the fastest pace since March 2010.
We're more pessimistic than the consensus on the Euro zone over the next year or two, both in terms of the outlook for the economy and also the currency union itself. So in that sense, these numbers give some support to that view, said Loynes from Capital Economics.