US stocks joined the downward trend after investors were left rattled by President Donald Trump’s “fire and fury” warning to North Korea.
Mr Trump’s words came overnight on Tuesday, UK time, in an escalation of tensions between the two countries.
The Dow ended a nine-day streak of closing records, falling by 0.24%, while the Nasdaq fell by just under half a percent and the S&P was down by 0.21%.
JJ Kinahan, chief strategist at TD Ameritrade, said geopolitics had “splashed cold water on the markets”.
He added: “There’s uncertainty and caution as investors nervously eye the next foreign policy moves.”
In the UK, the FTSE 100 closed down 0.59%, or 44.67 points, at 7498, broadly in line with negative trends in European markets.
The pan-European STOXX 600 was down 0.7% at closing, France’s CAC 40 fell 1.4% after a car hit a group of soldiers in Paris in what is thought to have been a deliberate act, and a fall in bond yields saw Germany’s DAX down 1.1%.
Sterling slipped below $ 1.30, close to a two-and-a-half-week low but it strengthened against the euro by 0.2%, following Tuesday’s 10-month low.
Many Asian currencies struggled, with the Korean won heading for its sharpest fall in nearly eight weeks.
Japan’s Nikkei had been down more than 1% overnight Tuesday and South Korean shares had also slipped.
Instead, investors headed for safe havens, such as gold, which gained as much as 1.2% – a near two-month high – in Wednesday trading.
The Swiss franc, meanwhile, looked set for its biggest one-day rise in more than two years.
In the UK, gold mining stocks Randgold Resource and Fresnillo were among the few to gain – up 2.8% and 4.9%.
The jitters came as Pyongyang said it was considering plans to attack the US Pacific territory of Guam – while Donald Trump threatened to react with “fire and fury”.
Brian Jacobsen, chief portfolio strategist at Wells Fargo Funds Management, said: “While the tough talk about the potential for war (between the US and North Korea) is scary, investors have heard it many times before.
“The hope, and perhaps the expectation, is that this latest round of rhetoric will also turn out to be just talk.”