HONG KONG (AP) -- World stock markets climbed Wednesday as strong U.S. economic reports shored up investor confidence, but British shares weakened as uncertainty rose ahead of the U.K.'s formal request to leave the European Union.
KEEPING SCORE: European shares advanced in early trading. Germany's DAX climbed 0.6 percent to 12,224.47 while France's CAC 40 added 0.4 percent to 5,065.20. Britain's FTSE 100 slipped less than 0.1 percent to 7,341.93. U.S. stocks were poised to open higher. Dow futures added 0.1 percent to 20,641.00 while broader S&P 500 futures gained 0.2 percent to 2,354.90.
CONFIDENCE RISING: The U.S. economy, the world's biggest, continues to strengthen, according to two data reports. The Conference Board's consumer confidence index rose in March to its highest level since 2000, in an upbeat sign of consumers' future expectations. Also, U.S. home prices in January jumped at the fastest pace in nearly 2 years because the tightening supply of houses for sale sparked bidding wars in many cities.
BREXIT: British Prime Minister Theresa May's plan on Wednesday to trigger Article 50 of the European Union's key treaty sent the pound lower. The request will start two years of negotiations before the U.K. can exit the EU, a move that's divided Britain and leaves 3 million EU citizens living in the country worried about their future.
QUOTEWORTHY: "While it is certain that today will go down in history as the day the U.K. decided to start an irreversible Brexit process that will terminate its 44-year-old membership with the EU, the outcome remains an uncertainty that may leave investors on edge," said Lukman Otunuga, analyst at foreign exchange trader FXTM.
ASIA'S DAY: Tokyo's benchmark Nikkei 225 index edged up 0.1 percent to close at 19,217.48 while South Korea's Kospi rose 0.2 percent to 2,166.98. Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.2 percent to 24,392.05, but the Shanghai Composite index lost 0.4 percent to 3,241.31. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.9 percent to 5,873.50.
CURRENCIES. The dollar strengthened to 111.11 yen from 110.57 yen. The euro fell to $1.0794 from $1.0810. The pound slipped to $1.2431 from $1.2447.
ENERGY: Benchmark U.S. crude oil futures rose 42 cents to $48.79 a barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The contract rose 64 cents, or 1.3 percent, to close at $48.37 per barrel on Tuesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, climbed 44 cents to $51.86 a barrel in London.