Stocks higher tracking US-China trade hopes, UK political turmoil

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Theresa May heads to Brussels Wednesday hoping to win concessions from EU leaders on their Brexit agreement that she can push through parliament

Stock markets around the world rose Wednesday as investors tracked growing optimism that China and the United States will reach a trade deal and as the UK faced more political turmoil with the resignation of three government MPs over Brexit.

European indices closed with solid gains but Wall Street merely edged higher in midday trading, keeping its powder dry before the minutes from last month's Federal Reserve meeting are released.

It is hoped the minutes from the January 30 meeting will shed light on the US central bank's rationale for signalling its recent series of rate hikes was on hold.

"Markets are looking for a window into the Fed's thinking, after a dovish shift in January," said analysts at Charles Schwab.

"The Fed has turned more dovish; but why and for how long are relevant questions."

Among currencies, the yuan was among the big gainers following a report that the US has called on China to stabilise the unit as part of any agreement between the world's top economic powers.

The pound mostly recovered after dropping versus the dollar and euro as British Prime Minister Theresa May heads to Brussels to renew her quest to reopen the terms of the country's Brexit divorce, but appears headed for disappointment.

With less than six weeks until Brexit day, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has agreed to meet May once again, but EU leaders insist they will not restart negotiations.

In a further blow to May, three MPs on Wednesday quit Britain's governing Conservatives over Brexit, saying the issue had "re-defined" the party and was "undoing all the efforts to modernise it".

The trio added that they planned to sit in parliament alongside eight former Labour lawmakers who, also citing their opposition to Brexit, resigned from the main opposition party this week to form the new Independent Group.

"It could take just four pro-EU Conservative MPs to defect in a no-confidence vote to trigger snap elections," said Kallum Pickering, senior economist at Berenberg.

- Talks 'going well': Trump -

London's benchmark FTSE 100 index was higher overall despite a near 16-percent slump in the share price of British supermarket group Sainsbury's.

The group's shares fell after UK regulators warned that a planned mega-merger of Sainsbury's and Walmart-owned Asda raised "extensive competition concerns" and could spark higher prices and less choice.

In the US, President Donald Trump said trade talks with China -- which resumed in Washington on Tuesday -- were "going very well" but were "very complex".

He also indicated he could push back the deadline for talks to be concluded -- March 1, when US tariffs on Chinese goods are due to more than double -- saying it is "not a magical date".

Observers say that while there are no details about the negotiations, the fact they are still talking and that China appeared responsive to the call for yuan stability was good news.

The precious metal palladium -- which was already worth more than gold -- reached above $1,500 per ounce for the first time, with analysts saying it was due to worries over supply shortages.

- Key figures around 1700 GMT -

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.7 percent at 7,228.62 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.8 percent at 11,401.97 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.7 percent at 5,195.95 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.6 percent at 3,259.49 (close)

New York - DOW: UP 0.1 percent at 25,921.94

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.6 percent at 21,431.49 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 1.0 percent at 28,514.05 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.2 percent at 2,761.22 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.1331 from $1.1342 at 2130 GMT

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.3087 from $1.3062

Euro/pound: UP at 86.89 pence from 86.80 pence

Dollar/yen: UP at 110.68 yen from 110.58 yen

Oil - Brent Crude: UP 67 cents at $67.13 per barrel

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 50 cents at $56.09

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