European markets drifted lower Thursday as investors returned to trading after yesterday's deadly terrorist attack in London and await a key vote on healthcare reform in the United States that could define the early Presidential term of Donald Trump.
The region-wide Stoxx Europe 600 Index was little-changed in the opening 30 minutes of trading at 374 points while benchmarks in Frankfurt and Paris traded modestly lower. Britain's FTSE 100 fell by around 9 points in relatively muted volumes, with investors keeping an eye on a firmer pound sterling, which briefly traded past the 1.25 mark against a weaker U.S. dollar before paring gains to 1.2487.
Next (NXGPY) shares were an early mover of note even as the clothing retailer warned of tough times ahead following a fall in profits during its last fiscal year.
Next shares rose more than 5% to the top of the FTSE 100 leaderboard to change hands at 4,076 pence each by 08:50 GMT, trimming their three-month loss to around 16.7% compared to a 4.8% fall for the FTSE 350 General Retailers Index.
Trading in Asia was largely a cautious affair, as well, with investors gingerly adding to long-dollar positions after the greenback fell to a 7-week low against a basket of global currencies and U.S. Treasuries rallied, pushing yields lower. The region-wide MSCI Asia ex-Japan index was marked 0.08% higher by 08:45 GMT while the benchmark Nikkei 225 benefited from a late-session rally to end the day 0.23% to the good at 19,085.31 points.
Much of the market's focus, however, remains firmly fixed on what is expected to be a dramatic vote in Washington on President Trump's signature policy effort to date: the Affordable Care Act. Should lawmakers failed to pass the "repeal and replace" legislation that will wipe out the controversial 'Obamacare' program, investors may take it as a signal that the President will find it increasingly difficult to push through his ambitious agenda of tax reform, regulatory change and fiscal stimulus.
Oil prices edged higher in early European trading, after a tepid overnight session, following import data from China that showed Saudi Arabia shipped around 1.24 million barrels of crude per day to the world's second-largest economy last month, up from 1.18 million per day in the first month of the year. The figures followed crude stock data from the United States Wednesday which showed inventories rose by a more-than-expected 4.8 million barrels in the week ending March 17 to a record 533.1 million.
WTI futures for May delivery were marked 0.3% higher at $48.19 by 09:00 GMT in London while Brent contracts for May, the global benchmark, were recording similar gains to trade at $50.77 per barrel.
The S&P 500 rebounded by the final hour of trading Wednesday, shaking off earlier pressure from dual forces: worries over progress over regulatory reform and a shooting in London that kept world markets on edge.
The S&P 500 ended the day up 0.19%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.03%. The Nasdaq was the best performer, rising 0.48%, thanks to gains in the tech sector.
Early indications from U.S. equity futures suggest further caution on Wall Street, with the Dow expected to open 2 points lower and little changed anticipated from yesterday's closing prices for either the Nasdaq or the S&P 500.