Global stocks largely rose Wednesday and the pound clawed higher on the eve of Britain’s closely fought referendum as traders appear to eye the country voting to remain in the European Union.
London’s FTSE 100 index forged ahead, closing up 0.6 percent, as the clock ticks down to the start of balloting to decide Britain’s future in the EU and the future shape of the bloc.
With all eyes trained on the result due early Friday, Frankfurt and Paris also edged higher, while US stocks were also cautiously up.
“Most economists on both sides of the pond insist that a ‘Leave’ vote from the EU would disrupt business as usual in Great Britain, the EU, here at home and elsewhere in the world.
“A vote to remain is seen as a near-term positive for markets here and abroad,” Mark Vickery, of Zacks Investment Research, said in a note to clients.
Asian stocks mainly held in positive territory, despite the head of the US Federal Reserve Janet Yellen warning that a vote to leave, a so-called Brexit, could hammer world markets.
Yellen was set for a second day of congressional hearings Wednesday.
The “Remain” camp now has a razor-thin lead -- 51 percent versus 49 percent for “Leave”, according to an average of polls compiled by What UK Thinks.
Financial markets have largely tracked the polls as the campaign goes down to the wire and now appear to place the “Remain” camp clearly in the lead.
Rebecca O’Keeffe, head of investment at online broker Interactive Investor, said equities had continued “pushing further forward” despite the poll predictions still making the results “too close to call”.
But she questioned whether investors may be proving too confident.
“With less than 24 hours before voting starts, markets are now pricing in virtually no risk of an exit vote, which begs the question as to whether the euphoria is being overdone and how much upside still exists for investors -- or whether this is irrational exuberance and investors are ignoring the risks?”
Britain, which is the world’s fifth largest economy, will suffer a powerful blow to growth and jobs, corporate chiefs warned, if the country becomes the first state to defect from the EU in the bloc’s 60-year history.
Following a three-day rally fuelled by hopes the country will stay in the 28-nation bloc, analysts said traders were pausing to see what happens in Thursday’s poll.
“Equity indices are mixed... having lost some of yesterday’s bullish momentum,” said Mike van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets, said, adding a “pause” was to be expected.
“Markets also have a tendency to hunker down into any major risk event, preferring to avoid leaving excessive risk on the table, especially when the outcome could be so ground-breaking -- politically, economically and of course for financial markets,” he added in a note to clients.
In foreign exchange, the pound climbed on Wednesday to $1.4684 having hit a five-month peak at $1.4783 the previous day on expectations that Britain would stay in the EU.
Moneycorp dealers said the “opinion-poll-driven euphoria” that began a few days ago had been “enormously helpful” to the pound.
“However, it has not been enough to offset the losses suffered by the pound earlier in the year. Sterling is still down by an average of -5.5% from its position on 1 January,” they said in a note.
In other news, oil prices fell after US data -- an indicator of demand in the world’s top oil consumer -- revealed stocks had declined less than expected last week.
Brent North Sea crude fell 81 cents from Tuesday to $49.81 a barrel, while US benchmark West Texas Intermediate was $49.10 a barrel, down 75 cents.
Key figures around 1545 GMT
London - F TSE 100: UP 0.6 percent at 6,261.19 points (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.6 percent at 10,071.06 points (close)
Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.3 percent at 4,380.03 points (close)
EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.4 percent at 2,978.31 points (close)
New York - DOW: UP 0.1 percent at 17,853.84 points
Tok yo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.6 percent at 16,065.72 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 0.9 percent at 2,905.55 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.6 percent at 20,795.12 (close)
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1283 from $1.1259 late Tuesday
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.4684 from $1.4628
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 104.55 yen from 104.80 yen