LONDON: Money poured into the world's bond markets on Wednesday as investors shunned riskier assets such as stocks for the relative safety of government debt.
Gold, another safe-haven favourite, rose to levels last seen six years ago.
Official rate cuts from three central banks, including a surprisingly aggressive one by the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, served as a stark warning that a worsening US-China trade conflict is shaking confidence in global growth.
As bond prices surge, their yield or returns to investors fall, with benchmark 10-year government paper in the US and elsewhere dropping to multi-year lows.
French and German bond yields, already in negative territory, even set new record lows, highlighting how safety is now the first priority in the markets.
"Nobody wants to be vulnerable, everybody is in risk aversion mode, and all ingredients are in place to push yields lower," Aurelien Buffault, bond manager at Meeschaert, told AFP.
The US-China trade war is the main reason to worry about growth, analysts said, but the outlook for a no-deal Brexit is also weighing on sentiment.
- 'Rates falling everywhere' -
Markets now believe that the world's key central banks will cut interest rates further to stave off, or at least alleviate, any coming recession, analysts said.
Crucially, the hefty cut by remote New Zealand may be a precursor to deeper US Federal Reserve easing, suggested Ipek Ozkardeskaya, Senior Market Analyst at London Capital Group.
"The surprise rate action from the RBNZ can only spur expectations of a similar size cut from the Federal Reserve," she said.
US Treasury yields showed a fall of 0.102 percentage points on the day, outdone among developed economies only by New Zealand yields following the rate cut, and Italy.
Ten-year yields elsewhere eased by 0.05 points or more.
"Rates falling everywhere," observed analysts at Moneycorp.
"They may not exactly be competing but the world's central banks all seem to be pointing in the same direction towards lower rates. In every case there is concern, to a greater or lesser degree, about the global economy," they said.
- Gold up, oil down, stocks wobble -
Commodity markets also followed the logic of economic worry, with safe-haven investment gold surging and oil, the fuel of economic growth, falling.
Gold went above $1,500 per ounce for the first time since 2013.
"We see the ongoing steep rise in the gold price as an expression of the high risk aversion among market participants," said Commerzbank analysts.
"Gold is quite clearly still in demand as a safe haven in the current market environment."
Oil extended already steep weakness after the US Department of Energy reported a surprise increase in inventories -- a sign of flagging demand.
European stocks had a rollercoaster session which started on an upbeat note but then turned sour when US stocks fell sharply at the New York opening bell "with escalated US-China trade concerns continuing to weigh on sentiment", Charles Schwab analysts said.
But as Wall Street came off its morning lows, European equities regained their poise to close mostly higher.
- Key figures around 1540 GMT -
London - FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,195.37 points (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.7 percent at 11,650.15 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.6 percent at 5,266.51 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.6 percent at 3,309.99
New York - Dow: DOWN 1.2 percent at 25,712.65
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.3 percent at 20,516.56 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.1 percent at 25,997.03 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 2,768.68 (close)
Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2160 from $1.2171 at 2100 GMT
Euro/pound: UP at 92.37 pence from 92.01 pence
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1230 from $1.1199
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 105.74 yen from 106.47 yen
Brent North Sea crude: DOWN 3.5 percent at $56.86 per barrel
West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 4.3 percent at $51.31