Investors will get a feel for corporate America's outlook as earnings reports start coming. Aluminum producer Alcoa Inc. will unofficially launch the reporting season for the fourth quarter of 2012 on Tuesday after U.S. markets close.
Events during the quarter such as Superstorm Sandy, the presidential election, and worries about the narrowly avoided "fiscal cliff" could lead to some unexpected results.
European shares were lower ahead of the release of November unemployment data for the region.
"The contrast with Friday's improving US employment data is likely to be quite stark," said Michael Hewson, senior market analyst at CMC Markets UK.
Britain's FTSE 100 fell 0.1 percent to 6,060.15. Germany's DAX shed 0.3 percent to 7,709.13. France's CAC-40 lost 0.1 percent to 3,699.55. Wall Street appeared headed for losses. Dow Jones industrial futures fell 0.2 percent to 13,285 and S&P 500 futures lost 0.3 percent to 1,452.10.
Japan's Nikkei 225 index tumbled 0.9 percent to 10,508.06 as the yen crept upward against the U.S. dollar. The rebound in the yen led some investors to sell export shares that had surged as the currency weakened in recent weeks. Toyota Motor Corp. fell 2 percent while Mazda Motor Corp. plunged 5 percent. Nintendo Co. shed 3.1 percent.
Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.9 percent to 23,111.19. South Korea's Kospi lost 0.7 percent to 1,997.94. Benchmarks in Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand fell, while Malaysia and the Philippines rose. Mainland Chinese shares were mixed.
Australia's S&P/ASX 200 shed 0.6 percent to 4,690.20. That came as the government announced the country's trade deficit widened in November and a report by the Australian Industry Group and the Housing Industry Association showed the country's construction industry slowing for the 31st consecutive month.
"Investors are taking a wait-and-see attitude," said Evan Lucas, strategist at IG Markets in Melbourne, adding that many investors went for profits ahead of the release Wednesday of weekly jobless claims in the U.S. and the European Central Bank's rate-setting meeting Thursday.
"A lot of eyes are watching what will happen in Europe and America over the next couple of days," he said. Another closely watched development will be the Bank of England's monthly announcement on its key interest rate, due Thursday.
Major indexes surged last week after U.S. lawmakers passed a bill to avoid a combination of government spending cuts and tax increases that have come to be known as the fiscal cliff. The deal, however, remains incomplete. Politicians will face another deadline in two months to agree on more spending cuts.
"The looming budget battle in the US has also prompted some hesitancy to buy risk assets," said analysts at Credit Agricole CIB in Hong Kong.
Among individual stocks, Agile Property Holdings Ltd. fell 6.5 percent after the Hong Kong developer said police charged its chairman with two counts of indecent assault. The company said the charges would not affect its business operations.
Benchmark crude for February delivery was down 13 cents to $93.06 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 10 cents to close at $93.19 a barrel on the Nymex on Monday.
In currencies, the euro fell to $1.3105 from $1.3112 in New York late Monday. The dollar fell to 87.42 yen from 87.84 yen.