European markets turned positive late in the London session as U.S. equity futures prices began to indicate a positive open on Wall Street ahead of 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 marked 0.32% higher by 1130 GMT at 375 points while benchmarks in Frankfurt and Paris traded around 0.3% higher. Britain's FTSE 100, however, as little changed with investors keeping an eye on a firmer pound sterling, which traded at a one-monht high of 1.2513 against a weaker U.S. dollar after stronger-than-expected retail sales data.
U.S. equity futures, which had suggested a negative open on Wall Street earlier in the European session, now point to small gain for the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq, but indicate little change at the opening bell for the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
In Europe, 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.
The pound was driven higher by British retail sales data which painted a mixed picture of the strength of consumer spending in Europe's second-largest economy, and also found support from hawkish comments from Bank of England Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent, who told an audience at London's Imperial College that rate hikes were "quite possible".
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 0.5% higher at $48.28 by 11:30 GMT in London while Brent contracts for May, the global benchmark, were recording similar gains to trade at $50.90 per barrel.