World stocks rise ahead of vote to push Brexit back

LONDON — Global stock markets pushed higher on Thursday as traders awaited a vote that could delay Britain's March 29 exit from the European Union.

In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.5 percent to 7,195 and France's CAC 40 advanced 0.7 percent to 5,341. Germany's was 0.4 percent higher at 11,61. Wall Street was set for a flat opening with Dow futures and the broader S&P 500 futures trading in very narrow ranges.

The focus in markets will once again be on London where lawmakers will vote on whether to request an extension from the European Union over Britain's scheduled departure from the bloc. Brexit is due to take place on March 29 but since lawmakers have not agreed a withdrawal agreement, a majority is expected to seek more time.

The latest vote comes a day after they voted 321-278 to signal that they didn't want the country to leave the EU without a divorce agreement. The decision was not legally binding, but it spurred gains in the pound. Most of those gains have evaporated amid the uncertainty of the coming vote, and the pound was trading 0.6 percent lower on the day at $1.3260.

"The U.K. continues its journey through Brexit purgatory, as Parliament votes on a possible extension," said Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG. "An extension is all but assured, now it is more of a question of for how long."

The British pound retreated to $1.3288 from $1.3337 in early trading. The dollar jumped to 111.67 yen from 111.17 yen and the euro eased to $1.1324 from $1.1326.

In Asia, stocks wobbled after China said its industrial output grew at the slowest pace in 17 years. It added 5.3 percent in the first two months of 2019 from the same period last year, official data showed Thursday.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 was almost flat at 21,287.02 while the Kospi in South Korea was up 0.3 percent at 2,155.68. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.2 percent to 28,851.39. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 percent to 6,179.60.

The Shanghai Composite gave up 1.2 percent to 2,990.69. Shares fell Taiwan and Thailand but rose in Indonesia.

CURRENCIES: The euro was down 0.2 percent at $1.1298 while the dollar rose 0.4 percent to 111.64 yen.

ENERGY: Oil prices were boosted by a weekly U.S Energy Information Administration report showing that crude stockpiles fell by 3.9 million barrels from the previous week. This marked the second decline in three weeks. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 29 cents to $58.55 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange while Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 41 cents to trade $67.96 per barrel.

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