Shares on Wall Street appeared headed for a sluggish open, with the future contract for the Dow Jones Industrial Average unchanged at 26,241 and that for the S&P 500 flat to slightly down at 2,878. Meetings were planned Thursday between the British government and the opposition Labour Party in an urgent search for a compromise solution for Brexit.
The upper House of Lords was set to consider legislation that would force Prime Minister Theresa May to seek a delay from the EU. The bill is aimed at preventing a no-deal Brexit on April 12. Because a no-deal Brexit is widely considered the worst option for trade and business, that would ease some concerns in markets.
Meanwhile, a group of five leading German economic research institutes slashed their growth forecast for the country to 0.8% from 1.9%, warning that if Britain leaves the European Union without a deal, it could get even worse. They said that "political risks have further clouded the global economic environment."
Shares were mixed in Asia, with the Shanghai Composite jumping 0.9% to 3,246.57 on reports of possible progress in China-U.S. trade talks. The U.S. and China opened a ninth round of talks Wednesday, aiming to further narrow differences in a trade war that has deepened uncertainty for businesses and investors and cast a pall over the outlook for the global economy.
The talks followed meetings last week in Beijing, where Larry Kudlow, a top White House economic adviser, said "good headway" was made. He expressed optimism that areas of disagreement could be narrowed further this week.
Markets have swayed for months as the contentious talks drag on. The latest reports say that both sides have resolved most of the key issues, with some pledges from China to end practices viewed by the U.S. as technology theft.
Elsewhere in Asia, Japan's Nikkei 225 index gained 0.1% to 21,724.95 while Hong Kong's Hang Seng fell 0.2% to 29,936.32. Australia's S&P ASX 200 sank 0.8% to 6,232.80. The Kospi in South Korea edged 0.2% higher to 2,206.53.
India's Sensex lost 0.6% to 38,658.22 and shares fell in Thailand and Singapore. CURRENCIES: The dollar slipped to 111.41 Japanese yen from 111.48 yen on Wednesday. The euro slipped to $1.1227 from $1.1233.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude gained 22 cents to $62.68 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It dropped 0.2% to settle at $62.46 a barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, picked up 21 cents to $69.52 per barrel.