European markets eased in the opening minutes of trade following weak Asian market performance, as investors awaited Italy's debt sale less than a week after its Fitch credit rating downgrade.

The UK's FTSE 100 fell 0.4 percent while Germany's DAX was down 0.02 percent. Spain's IBEX and Italy's FTSE MIB fell 0.3 and 0.2 percent respectively.

In France, the CAC-40 was down 0.1 percent. The FTSEurofirst 300 index tracking the region's blue-chip stocks gained 0.1 percent to 1,195.6.

The single currency posted modest gains against the dollar, trading at about $1.30.

After the recent political crisis, Italy is once again set to dominate market sentiments through its long-term debt sale, so soon after Fitch's downgrade. Italy's borrowing costs are expected to rise, although analysts suggest that the demand for high yields and the European Central Bank's protection could mute the jump, according to Reuters.

Rome is looking to sell up to €7.25bn in four separate bonds, including three and 15-year paper.

Investors are also awaiting the euro area industrial output figures, which are expected to be lower. US retail sales data is also expected later in the day, which could give further indications on the country's economic health.

Asian markets had ended lower earlier, as investors took a break after the recent rallies to consider global economic conditions and consolidate gains.

The Nikkei average index ended 0.61 percent lower to 12239.6 while South Korea's benchmark KOSPI was up 0.32 percent to 1999.7. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 slipped 0.50 percent to close at 5092.4.

In China, the Shanghai Composite Index fell 0.99 percent to 2263.9 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng was down 1.27 percent lower to 22599.0 towards close.

Japanese stocks, which have surged over 18 percent in the year to date, retreated as the yen showed signs of strengthening against the dollar, trading at ¥95.74, down from ¥96.05 reached earlier.

The local currency's pick-up came following reports that the country's largest opposition has objected to the nomination of Kikuo Iwata for the post of Bank of Japan deputy governor. Iwata is well known as an advocate of aggressive monetary easing measures.

Although this development set the stage for speculation on the government's plans to galvanise the economy, concerns were eased after two other opposition parties said that they will support Iwata.

Real estate stocks continued to weigh down Chinese markets, as investors remained wary that the government could resort to further price control curbs. Investors are also cautious ahead of the conclusion of the National People's Congress which could see further monetary announcements. This week the government revealed plans to restructure some of its major bodies in a bid to lessen state intervention.

Elsewhere in Asia, South Korea is planning to boost its ailing economy with monetary stimulus measures, according to a Reuters report that cited an unnamed government official. The country's economy has struggled of late, while its stocks have been among the worst performers in the region.