Crude oil prices fell on concerns about the pace of growth in China, the world's second-largest oil consumer. News that Chinese rail freight volumes logged their biggest-ever annual decline in 2015 added to economic growth worries.
A rally in mining and telecom stocks helped European shares edge slightly higher in volatile trade, while major averages on Wall Street were slightly higher.
MSCI's all-country world stock index fell 0.01 percent and its emerging markets index rose 0.09 per cent.
On Wall Street, the Dow Jones industrial average gained 9.72 points to 17,158.66. The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent to 2,016.71 and the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.2 percent, to 4,891,43.
"The main reason for the uncertainty is China, given that company numbers and the macroeconomic picture in Europe and the U.S. have not changed," said Alessandro Allegri, chief executive of Italian asset manager Ambrosetti Asset Management.
In Europe, the pan-regional FTSEurofirst 300 index rose 0.66 percent to 1,410.37. The heavyweight German index DAX gained 0.3 per cent.
The yen climbed to its strongest level since April against the euro and hovered at its highest since October versus the dollar. The Japanese currency is traditionally sought at times of risk aversion.
The yen jumped more than 1 percent against the euro, rising to 127.99.
Against the dollar, the yen was up 0.3 percent on the day at 119.03 yen, according to EBS data.
The euro fell 0.7 percent to $1.0752.
The oil market largely shrugged off rising political tensions in the Middle East. On Tuesday, Kuwait recalled its ambassador to Iran after attacks on Saudi missions by Iranian protesters, state news agency KUNA reported.
Global benchmark Brent crude prices were down 63 cents at $36.58 a barrel. US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude slipped 65 cents to $36.12.
Long-dated US Treasury yields were little changed.
Gold rose after a wave of risk aversion due to growth worries in China and rising tensions in the Middle East triggered demand for the metal. U.S. futures for February delivery rose 0.35 percent to $1,078.4.