Overnight, Wall Street's benchmark S&P 500 index lost 0.4% for its third straight daily decline.
Stocks retreated after the U.S. government reported 861,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week. Minutes of the Federal Reserve's latest meeting showed central bank officials believe the coronavirus pandemic still poses considerable risks to the economy.
In Washington, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen urged Congress to avoid cutting President Joe Biden's proposed $1.9 trillion aid package. She said the economy is in “a deep hole” despite signs of improvement.
“The market is likely still on a reflation path, but the way will get choppier from here,” said Stephen Innes of Axi in a report. He said further improvement requires “continued economic growth recovery” because government and central bank support already are reflected in asset prices.
The Shanghai Composite Index lost 0.9% to 3,641.63 and the Nikkei 225 in Tokyo sank 1% to 29,947.42. The Hang Seng in Hong Kong lost 1.1% to 30,265.15.
The Kospi in South Korea retreated 1.2% to 3,048.03 and Sydney's S&P-ASX 200 tumbled 1.6% to 6,774.20. New Zealand and Southeast Asian markets also retreated.
On Wall Street, the S&P 500 fell to 3,913.97. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 0.4% to 31,493.34. The Nasdaq Composite tumbled 0.7%.
Also Friday, a preliminary version of Japan's monthly purchasing managers' index for manufacturing rose to its highest level in just over two years. That suggested manufacturers are coping with the country's latest state of emergency better than many people expected.
Stock prices rose over the past six months on optimism about the development of coronavirus vaccines. But sentiment has been dented by conflicting data after renewed infection spikes in the United States and Europe prompted governments to reimpose travel and business curbs.
Shares of GameStop fell 11.4% on Thursday. Congress is conducting a hearing on the recent volatility of companies caught in a tug-of-war between Wall Street institutional investors betting against the companies and the online retail investors who pushed shares higher.
In energy markets, benchmark U.S. crude fell $1.49 per barrel to $59.04 in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract lost 62 cents on Thursday to close at $60.52. Brent crude, used to price international oils, retreated $1.41 per barrel to $62.52 in London. It shed 41 cents the previous session to $63.93.
The dollar was unchanged at 105.67 yen. The euro held steady at $1.2086.