European stocks edge higher, pound retreats awaiting Brexit deal

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European markets
European markets
Adam Gault

European stock markets edged higher and the pound retreated Friday with focus firmly on whether Britain and the European Union can finally agree a post-Brexit trade deal.

"This week ends just like last week with the market focused on an apparent Sunday deadline to approve a Brexit deal," said AJ Bell investment director Russ Mould.

Sterling has fallen "as government ministers and (British Prime Minister) Boris Johnson himself have appeared to pour cold water on the prospects of a deal.

"Overall though investors are seeing this as bluster intended to enable the UK side to claim victory in the negotiations assuming an agreement is eventually brokered," Mould added.

British and EU negotiators on Friday plunged into the "final hours" of their scramble for a deal, deeply divided on the highly-charged issue of fishing rights.

The UK will leave the EU single market in less than two weeks and time has all but run out for any agreement to be approved in time to head off a severe economic shock.

The pound, which has hit 19-month highs against the dollar this week on trade deal optimism, retreated Friday.

London's FTSE 100 stocks index was up slightly around Friday's half-way stage, as were the eurozone's main indices.

German business confidence unexpectedly rose in December, a key survey showed Friday, even as the country ends the year back under a new lockdown to curb a second coronavirus wave.

Asian stock markets mostly closed lower after US indices on Thursday again ended at record highs.

The Bank of Japan on Friday extended an emergency virus-related lending programme but kept its monetary easing policy unchanged, as the country faces a record spike in new Covid-19 cases.

Long-term economic hope has meanwhile overshadowed data showing an unexpected jump in US jobless numbers, which followed a report earlier in the week revealing a drop in retail sales.

On Capitol Hill, top-level politicians remain locked in discussions for a rescue package they hope to get passed before the end of the year when crucial support measures for Americans run out.

The two sides, in a stalemate for months, were inching towards a deal after a bipartisan group of lawmakers put together a proposal that appeared attractive to each of them.

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