LONDON: European stock markets rose on Tuesday (Mar 19), while the pound firmed after strong UK jobs data as traders braced for more Brexit chaos and awaited the US Federal Reserve's latest policy meeting.
British Prime Minister Theresa May held crisis talks with her ministers after the speaker of parliament threatened to derail her EU withdrawal plan just 10 days before Brexit day, leaving her strategy in tatters.
The fallout from Brexit was however offset by official data showing that the UK unemployment rate hit a 44-year low at 3.9 per cent, while wages continue to outpace inflation.
"It appears that the labour market is still in remarkably rude health despite the ongoing calamity surrounding Brexit," noted David Cheetham, chief market analyst at the XTB trading group.
"In terms of market reaction there has been a little pop higher in the pound, but the markets remain far more concerned with the latest on the Brexit front."
GERMANY POWERS AHEAD
In the eurozone, Frankfurt powered ahead by more than one percent after a survey showed confidence among investors in Europe's largest economy Germany rose in March, as fears of a hard Brexit briefly receded earlier this month and progress in US-China trade talks soothed nerves.
The ZEW institute's monthly confidence index added 9.8 points for a reading of minus 3.6 - still in negative territory, but picking up the pace of recovery from a deep trough the indicator plumbed in October and November.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she would struggle until the last possible moment to achieve an orderly Brexit, saying the interests of Germany, Britain and the EU were at stake.
Wall Street showed a solid rise in the early afternoon, as the focus turned to the US central bank and its interest rate plans.
The Fed is widely expected to hold fire Wednesday on another hike, with observers predicting it will opt for just one increase this year as opposed to the two previously tipped, amid global growth weakness and US-China trade tensions.
Oil prices meanwhile ran into profit-taking, having climbed on the back of Monday's announcement that major producers led by Saudi Arabia agreed to keep working together to prop up the market, but would decide only in June on whether to extend production cuts.
Key figures around 1640 GMT:
London - FTSE 100: UP 0.3 per cent at 7,324.00 points (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 1.1 per cent at 11,788.41 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.2 per cent at 5,425.90 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.6 per cent at 3,409.00
New York - DOW: UP 0.6 per cent at 26.061.29
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 per cent at 21,566.85 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 per cent at 29,466.28 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.2 per cent at 3,090.98 (close)
Pound/dollar: UP at US$1.3281 from US$1.3253 at 2040 GMT on Monday
Euro/pound: DOWN at 85.46 pence from 85.57 pence
Euro/dollar: UP at US$1.1353 from US$1.1337
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 111.38 yen from 111.41 yen
Oil - Brent Crude: DOWN 11 cents at US$67.43 per barrel
Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 17 cents at US$59.21 per barrel