The market slide accelerated slightly in the last half-hour of trading as President Donald Trump denounced North Korea's nuclear program.
The Dow Jones industrial average fell 36 points, or 0.2 percent, to 22,048. European equity indices all traded lower early in the session. The S&P 500 was down 0.4%.
The S&P/TSX composite index was down 39.02 points to 15,217.33, with most sectors finishing in the red while bullion stocks surged almost 1.9 per cent.
In currency markets, the Canadian dollar was trading at an average price of 78.71 cents United States, down 0.20 of a USA cent.
Gold futures for December delivery climbed 1.3 per cent to settle at $1,279.30 (U.S.) an ounce on the Comex in NY.
U.S. Treasury yields fell on Wednesday, with yields on the benchmark 10-year note hitting a six-week low, as investors reached for safe-haven assets such as government debt. (VNTV) said it will pay about GBP8 billion ($10.4 billion) in cash and stock to buy the United Kingdom payments processor (http://www.marketwatch.com/story/vantiv-seals-10-billion-worldpay-acquisition-2017-08-09), marking one of the biggest deals in the quickly consolidating sector.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, who often has emphasised the devastating costs of any conflict with North Korea, seemed to back up Trump's tone.
But while many investors have shaken off scares such as Britain exiting the European Union or political unrest in Washington, the view is taking hold that gold can be a very good hedge against more serious threats like nuclear confrontation in Asia. Other fallers amid disappointing earnings included German synthetic-rubber maker Lanxess (shares down 4%) and Henkel (down 3.6%).
"Japanese equities hadn't been rising much despite positive earnings results, so investors had started jumping at shadows, doubting whether they should really be holdings onto Japanese stocks".
Crude oil was 0.5 percent higher with prices at $49 per barrel. Netflix lost 1.5 per cent.
The VSTOXX, Europe's main gauge of equity market investor anxiety, stirred to reach its highest level in two weeks, though still remained at subdued levels, while its USA counterpart - the Vix - touched a one-month high.
Platinum was up on Wednesday while palladium was about 1% lower, widening the spread between the two metals. Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.1 percent. Japan's Nikkei 225 slipped 0.3 percent, while Australia's S&P/ASX 200 lost 0.5 percent. Chinese blue chips closed flat but Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index fell 0.4%.