By Tommy Wilkes
LONDON - Stocks gained on Wednesday as investors clung to hopes that the United States and China could yet agree some sort of trade deal, while the prospect of a last-minute Brexit agreement between the European Union and Britain seemed as remote as ever.
Markets have begun October in a nervous mood, and this week has seen investors dump stocks on concern the U.S.-China conflict over trade and foreign policy is nowhere near a resolution and is increasingly damaging the global economy.
With a little more than three weeks until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU, both sides launched into a blame game over the lack of agreement on the terms of their divorce, giving investors more to worry about.
But European shares managed to find a floor, with the pan-regional Euro STOXX extending gains after a media report said China was open to a partial trade deal with the U.S. despite the recent blacklisting of Chinese technology firms.
Germany's DAX strengthened 0.96%, France's CAC 40 0.77% and Britain's FTSE 100 0.6%. U.S. stock futures rose 0.87%, recovering some of the benchmark S&P 500's drop on Tuesday.
"The market is reacting to news China may be open to a partial deal with the U.S. and it seems they want to avoid the increase in tariffs which will happen on Oct. 15," said Justin Onuekwusi, fund manager at Legal and General Investment Management.
"But a broad agreement doesn't seem to be on the cards given the relationship between the U.S. and China seems to have deteriorated in recent weeks. It looks like the trade talks in coming days might be a bit of a waste of time."
Washington and Beijing are engaged in a year-long row that has expanded beyond trade policy, suggesting even more damage to a global economy that is already showing signs of slowing.
Hopes that the two sides could reach a truce this week faded after President Donald Trump's administration introduced visa restrictions on Chinese officials and added more Chinese companies to a U.S. trade blacklist.
A U.S. official said high-level trade talks would still take place on Thursday and Friday as planned, but Trump has said tariffs on Chinese imports will rise on Oct. 15 if no progress is made in the negotiations.
Oil prices snapped their losing streak and rebounded as traders bet any easing of the U.S.-China tensions would benefit global oil demand.
The U.S. Treasury yield curve steepened after U.S. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell signalled further interest rate cuts and the resumption of bond purchases following a recent spike in money-market rates.
In Europe, talks between the European Union and Britain over an agreement to cover London's departure from the EU on Oct. 31 appeared to be going nowhere.
British lawmakers have voted to force Prime Minister Boris Johnson to seek an extension to the departure date if he cannot agree a deal, but the prospect of further prolonged political uncertainty is worrying investors.
Sterling jumped after a British newspaper report said that the EU would make a major concession in the negotiations, but the gains were quickly unwound as EU sources denied it. The pound was last down marginally on the day at $1.2214.
Many economists say markets have already priced in the failure to reach a deal.
"In the interminably tedious EU-UK divorce process, things are getting uninteresting. Tweets are being fired. Latin quotes are being sent out. Markets did not expect a deal to be done, and so should remain indifferent (unless it looks as if a no-deal exit will be introduced in defiance of legislation)," said UBS economist Paul Donovan.
With some semblance of risk appetite returning, the safe-haven dollar fell, shedding 0.2% against the euro to $1.0979.
The offshore yuan, which fell on Tuesday, recovered 0.5% to 7.1311 yuan per dollar.
Sweden's crown weakened to another decade low against the euro. Scandinavian currencies have been buffeted by concerns about a global trade slowdown, and the Norwegian crown this week hit a more than decade low.
In bond markets, U.S. Treasury and euro zone government bond yields ticked higher as investors happy to take on some more risk sold out of safer assets.
Spot gold prices succumbed to selling pressure and were last down at $1,501.
Brent crude futures rallied 0.79% to $58.70 a barrel, reversing earlier falls. U.S. West Texas Intermediate crude increased 0.8% in price to $53.05.
(Additional reporting by Sujata Rao; Editing by Bernadette Baum)