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Many traders have already pulled out of any risky investments — such as stocks, particularly financial ones, the euro and emerging market currencies — and pile into safe havens: U.S. Treasuries, the dollar, the Japanese yen and gold.
With Wall Street closed, investors focused their selling in Asia and Europe, where the equity losses Monday were some of the heaviest this year.
"We've got some rough riding ahead," said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Harris Private Bank in Chicago, adding he was "concerned that we could see a second wave of selling when most traders are back at their desks."
Dow futures were down 1.8 percent at 11,010 points while the broader S&P 500 futures were 2.0 lower at 1,145.70.
After Asian indexes closed lower, with the Japan's Nikkei 225 shedding 1.9 percent, European shares booked sharp losses. Britain's FTSE 100 closed the day down 3.6 percent to 5,102.58. Germany's DAX slumped a massive 5.3 percent to 5,246.18, and France's CAC-40 tumbled 4.7 percent to 2,999.54.
The health of the U.S. economy is crucial for the wider world because consumer spending there accounts for a fifth of global economic activity. The U.S. imports huge amounts from Japan and China and is closely linked at all levels with the European market. The U.S. has seen a slump in consumer and business sentiments.
Traders were hoping for signs that the Federal Reserve might take action at its September meeting to support the economy — perhaps a third round of bond purchases, dubbed quantitative easing III or QE3, analysts said.
Banking stocks were among the hardest hit Monday, partly because the U.S. government on Friday sued 17 financial firms for selling Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac billions of dollars worth of mortgage-backed securities that turned toxic when the housing market collapsed.
Among those targeted by the lawsuits were Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc., JP Morgan Chase & Co., and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. Large European banks including The Royal Bank of Scotland, Barclays Bank and Credit Suisse were also sued.
In Asia, Australia's S&P/ASX 200 followed the broaden trend to close down 2.4 percent and South Korea's Kospi slid 4.4 percent. Hong Kong's Hang Seng slid 3 percent. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan, New Zealand and the Philippines also were down.
In currencies, the euro weakened to $1.4100 from $1.4187 in New York late Friday. The dollar was roughly flat at 76.87 yen. Last month, the dollar fell under 76 yen, which was a new post-World War II high for the Japanese currency.
Benchmark oil for October delivery was down $2.12 to $84.33 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. Crude fell $2.48 to settle at $86.45 on Friday.
In London, Brent crude for October delivery was down $1.63 at $110.70 on the ICE Futures exchange.