European stock markets ended slightly higher Wednesday, as investors assessed geopolitical tensions and a looming announcement regarding Qatari sanctions.
The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed up 0.18 percent, with most sectors and major bourses in positive territory.
Financial services led the gains, up over 1 percent, while oil and gas stocks, utilities and autos lagged.
Banks ended higher after the European Commission gave the green light to Italy’s 5.4 billion euro ($6.1 billion) bailout of Monte dei Paschi di Siena on Tuesday. The agreement takes the total amount of Italian taxpayer funds deployed to rescue banks over the past few weeks to more than 20 billion euros. HSBC and Deutsche Bank both closed above the flatline.
Looking at individual stocks, U.S. credit card processing firm Vantiv announced plans Wednesday to take over Worldpay, the U.K.’s largest payment processing firm, in a deal worth £7.7 billion ($9.94 billion). Worldpay’s shares tumbled almost 9 percent on the news.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., the Dow Jones industrial average and the broader S&P 500 index were mixed ahead of the release of the Federal Reserve’s meeting minutes later in the trading day.
On the agenda Wednesday, investors will be looking to the Middle East, and to Qatar in particular. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain will meet in Cairo on Wednesday to decide whether to extend or abandon sanctions imposed against Qatar. Ahead of the decision, Moody’s downgraded its rating outlook for Qatar to “negative” from “stable”.
U.S. markets reopened Wednesday after a day of inactivity for the July 4 celebrations. This comes after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that a long-range missile launched by North Korea Tuesday indicated a “new escalation of the threat” of President Kim Jong-un’s regime and called for global action.