European stocks drifted lower Friday as investors focused on a delayed vote on health care reform in the United States and shrugged-off better-than-expected economic activity data in the single currency area.
Europe's broadest measure of share prices, the Stoxx Europe 600 index, was marked 0.26% lower by 09:30 GMT with all the major national benchmarks drifting into negative territory. Britain's FTSE 100, however, was hoovering in and out of the red as a weaker pound boosted the value of some of its biggest constituents, most of which earn the bulk of their revenues outside of the United Kingdom.
The euro was traded firmly higher at 108.00 against the U.S. dollar after a closely-watched bellwether of economic activity around the region underscored an ongoing recovery and improving price dynamics.
The IHS Markit Composite PMI reading of private sector activity in the Eurozone surged to 56.7 in March, the fastest pace in just under six years and higher than the February reading of 56.0. Its benchmark of the services sector tally also surprised, rising a full point to 56.5 and a 71-month high. The manufacturing sector reading, however, slipped to a two-month low of 57.2.
Collectively, the figures suggest a first quarter GDP growth rate of around 0.6%, IHS Markit said.
Asia markets traded in a similar pattern with the region-wide MSCI Asia ex-Japan little-changed from Thursday's close following a quiet session that largely focused on currency markets. Japan's Nikkei 225, however, rounded out the week on a high not, with investors shrugging off a firmer yen and lifting the benchmark 0.93% higher to 19.262.53 by the close of trading in Tokyo.
The U.S. dollar was able to recoup a portion of its losses against a basket of six major currencies this week, rising 0.21% to 99.75 in Asia, but that bid faded to 99.48 in European trading and much of its direction will hinge on the outcome of a delayed vote on the Republican-led Affordable Health Care initiative later Friday in Washington.
Lawmakers pulled the vote from the floor of Congress yesterday, ostensibly to ensure enough votes to allow it to pass, amid 11th-hour negotiations between the White House and recalcitrant Republican members of the so-called House Freedom Caucus.
Wall Street wavered in the final hour Thursday before stocks settled lower as investors grew impatient over a Congressional vote on the Republicans' repeal and replace health care bill. The vote was delayed shortly before markets closed.
The S&P 500 finished down 0.11%, the Dow Jones Industrial Average slid by 0.02% and the Nasdaq lost 0.07%.
The Trump administration and Speaker Paul Ryan have implored lawmakers in closed-door meetings to support the bill. President Donald Trump told lawmakers that their seats would be on the line in 2018 if they didn't back the bill. Republicans can afford to lose just 21 votes from their party.
"The health care bill is really the first 'put up or shut up' moment of Trump's presidency," said Brad McMillan, chief investment officer for Commonwealth Financial Network. "Up to now, we have had a rally based on the expectation that Trump and the Republicans were going to enact meaningful change. Hope has been the dominant emotion since the election, and all of the political noise has been viewed in that context."
Futures prices, however, are pointing to an optimistic conclusion, with the Dow poised to rise 30 points at the opening bell and solid gains expected for both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.