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03 December 2023

Markets take Brexit in their stride


European stock markets were mostly steady Wednesday as the British government formally set in motion the process to quit the EU over the next two years, with investors already having largely priced in "Brexit" in the nine months since last year's referendum, dealers said.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the Atlantic, Wall Street was fractionally weaker, as investors appeared to be almost oblivious to the so-called "triggering" of the "Article 50" divorce proceedings between London and Brussels that have split Britain and thrown the future of the 28-nation bloc into question.

"We had been waiting nine months, and when it came it was not with a bang but with a whimper," said Manulife Asset Management analyst Will Hamlyn.

"Essentially, Article 50 is meaningless by itself. The real event to watch is April 4 and April 29, when we get the EU's declaration on Brexit and an EU summit on Brexit," said City Index analyst Kathleen Brooks.

"The polite opening to negotiations has helped supress volatility and limit market reaction."

European markets barely flinched when the British ambassador to the EU formally handed over the historic letter announcing Britain's intention to leave the bloc.

Nine months after the shock British vote to quit the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May formally activated Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, meaning Britain is set to leave the bloc in 2019.

The pound - considered a barometer for market concerns over Brexit - wobbled against the dollar.

But financial markets have largely priced in Brexit after the nation's surprise June 2016 referendum verdict.

Increased volatility ahead?

"It's business as usual. It's been pretty muted," said David Papier, head of sales at ETX Capital.

"People have known about the trigger of Article 50 for months now, so people have been positioned accordingly and it looks like everything has been priced in. It certainly hasn't shown the volatility that we saw over Brexit (vote) or the US election," he told AFP.

"Once the terms of Brexit, once the costs of Brexit become clear, and once these trade deals have some clarity around them in terms of renegotiation, we might see some more volatility in the market."

On the other side of the Atlantic, share prices on Wall Street opened slightly softer, as investors paused for breath following the previous day's gains on the back of a strong US consumer confidence survey.

News that the consumer confidence index had hit a 16-year high helped soothe worries that President Donald Trump's economy-boosting agenda could have been thrown off the rails by the collapse of his healthcare bill.

Friday's debacle over repealing Obamacare hammered world markets on speculation the tycoon would not be able to ram through promised tax cuts and infrastructure spending.

Key figures at 1345 GMT

New York - Dow: DOWN 0.2 percent at 20,658.52 points

London - FTSE 100: FLAT at 7,342.23

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.4 percent at 12,202.18

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.1 percent at 5,051.83

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.1 percent at 3,467.53

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 19,217.48 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 0.2 percent at 24,392.05 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.4 percent at 3,241.31 (close)

Euro/dollar: DOWN at $1.0757 from $1.0785

Pound/dollar: DOWN at $1.2420 from $1.2442

Dollar/yen: DOWN at 110.82 yen from 110.98 yen

Oil - Brent North Sea: UP 22 cents at $51.64 per barrel

Oil - West Texas Intermediate: UP 19 cents at $48.56.