European stocks climb as markets track Brexit, Fed

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Britain and the EU hammered out a divorce agreement over the past two years but MPs have twice rejected the plan by heavy margins with anti-Brexiteers sensing hope

European stock markets rose Tuesday, while the pound steadied after strong British 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.

The fallout from Brexit was however offset by official data showing that the British unemployment rate hit a 44-year low at 3.9 percent, while wages continued to outpace inflation.

"It appears that the labor 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."

May will write to EU President Donald Tusk with a plan for delaying Brexit beyond March 29, her spokesman said Tuesday, admitting the parliamentary deadlock has reached crisis levels.

The letter will be sent before May heads to a Brussels summit on Thursday.

Michel Barnier, the European Union's chief negotiator, warned Tuesday that any extension of the Brexit talks would have "political and economic costs" for the remaining 27 EU states.

"A long extension... should be linked to something new, a new element or new political process," Barnier told reporters, urging May to secure the backing of the British parliament for any request.

"How can we ensure that, at the end of a possible extension, we are not back in the same situation as today?" he asked.

- 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.

Wall Street began strongly, but weakened following a Bloomberg report that described tensions between the United States and China on trade terms that could pose problems for a broad agreement.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin will return to Beijing next week to resume talks, a senior administration official told AFP on Tuesday.

The Fed on Wednesday is expected to keep interest rates unchanged and could signal it anticipates fewer interest rate hikes in 2019.

- Key figures around 2050 GMT -

New York - DOW: DOWN 0.1 percent at 25,887.38 (close)

New York - S&P 500: FLAT at 2,832.57 (close)

New York - Nasdaq: UP 0.1 percent 7,723.95 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 0.3 percent at 7,324.00 (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 1.1 percent at 11,788.41 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.2 percent at 5,425.90 (close)

EUROSTOXX 50: UP 0.6 percent at 3,409.00 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.1 percent at 21,566.85 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 29,466.28 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.2 percent at 3,090.98 (close)

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3268 from $1.3255 at 2100 GMT on Monday

Euro/pound: UP at 85.55 pence from 85.54 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1351 from $1.1337

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 111.40 yen from 111.43 yen

Oil - Brent Crude: UP 7 cents at $67.61 per barrel

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: DOWN 6 cents at $59.03 per barrel