Wall Street slid on Monday after Kuwait pulled out of a joint venture with Dow Chemical due to the deepening global recession.
Oil prices rose 6% following a third day of Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip.
Dow Chemicals was down 19% on the New York Stock Exchange to $US15.32. Rohm & Haas fell 16.1% to $US53.34.
Trading is expected to be light throughout the week, which will be shortened by the New Year's holiday on Thursday.
The Dow Jones industrial average slipped 31.62 points, or 0.37%, to 8,483.93.
Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 3.38 points, or 0.39%, to 869.42. The Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 19.92 points, or 1.3%, to 1,510.32.
The S&P 500 is down about 40% for the year - second only to a record drop of 47.1% in 1931.
Volume was slim on the New York Stock Exchange, where about 875.4 million shares changed hands, far below last year's estimated daily average of 1.90 billion. About 1.17 billion shares were traded on the Nasdaq.
European markets up
However, European shares closed higher in thin trading on Monday.
The FTSEurofirst 300 index of top European shares ended 0.8% higher at 810.37 points. The index is 46% this year.
In Frankfurt, the DAX index ended at 4704.86 points, up 75.48 or 1.63%. In Paris, the CAC-40 index closed at 3130.72 points, up 14.51 or 0.47%.
The Swiss market index closed at 5464.96 points, up 65.38 or 1.21%.
In Britain, the FTSE 100 ended up 102.76 points, 2.4%, at 4,319.35. However, trading volumes were very thin and activity was expected to remain light ahead of the New Year holiday.
In Japan, on the last full trading day of 2008, the Nikkei gained 7.65 points, 0.1%, to 8,747.17 in thin trade. It will trade for a half day on Tuesday and reopen on 5 January.
In Hong Kong, the Hang Seng Index ended 144.34 points higher at 14,328.48.
Australian shares rose 1.1%. The S&P/ASX 200 index added 38.9 points to close at 3,621.1 points.