Asia stocks on defensive amid growth fears

Asian shares have been on a slippery slope as plunging oil prices fanned worries about a dimming outlook for the global economy and investors braced themselves for a crucial meeting between US and Chinese leaders.

MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down slightly on Monday, while Japan's Nikkei posted gains of 0.2 per cent after initial losses.

On Wall Street, US stocks closed lower on Friday, with the benchmark S&P 500 hitting its lowest close in more than six months as the energy sector was sold off in the wake of the oil slump.

Read Next The benchmark S&P 500 fell 0.66 per cent to end about 10.2 per cent down from its September 20 closing record high, the second time this year it has entered a 10 per cent correction after a rout in early February.

Oil prices traded near their lowest levels since October last year, having dived eight per cent on Friday for the biggest weekly losses in nearly three years, with rising US production intensifying fears of a supply glut.

So far this month, WTI and Brent futures were down more than 21 per cent, on track for their biggest fall since October 2008 unless they recoup some of those losses this week.

In early Monday trade, US crude futures fetched $US50.53 per barrel, slightly higher though not far from Friday's low of $US50.15.

Brent crude futures last stood at $US58.99 per barrel, near Friday's low of $US58.41.

The oil woes also reflected anxiety over a heated trade war between the United States and China.

US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, are expected to hold talks during a G20 summit in Argentina at the end of this month.

A survey on Friday showed euro zone business growth has been much weaker than expected this month as slowing global growth and US-led trade war have led to a sharp fall in exports.

IHS Markit's Flash Composite Purchasing Managers' Index for the euro zone fell to 52.4 in November, its lowest since late 2014.

That put pressure on the euro. The single currency traded at $US1.1335, little changed in Asia on Monday after a 0.6 per cent drop on Friday.

Germany's 10-year bond yield also fell to 0.331 per cent its lowest since early September.

The British pound hardly moved at $US1.2818 after European Union leaders sealed a Brexit deal on Sunday.

Markets are now looking to whether the deal can get through a fractious British parliament, which is set to vote on it just before the next EU summit on December 13-14.

The yen changed hands at 112.91 to the US dollar.

The greenback's index against at basket of six major currencies stood at 96.908, not far from this year's top of 97.704 marked two weeks ago.