World Stocks Higher on Thursday

SINGAPORE (AP) -- World stocks were mostly higher on Thursday as traders awaited a vote that could delay Britain's March 29 exit from the European Union.

In Europe, Britain's FTSE 100 added 0.5 percent to 7,192.44 and France's CAC 40 advanced 0.7 percent to 5,344.50. The DAX in Germany was 0.4 percent higher at 11,614.18. Wall Street was set for early gains. Futures for the broad S&P 500 index rose 0.2 percent to 2,824.00. That for the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.1 percent at 25,801.00.

On Wednesday, British lawmakers voted 321-278 to signal that they didn't want the country to leave the EU without a divorce agreement. The decision was not legally binding, but it spurred gains in the pound. It also triggered a vote to be held later Thursday on whether Britain should delay its March 29 departure from the bloc.

The development came after lawmakers rejected Prime Minister Theresa May's divorce deal for a second time.

"Prime Minister Theresa May is said to be pushing a third vote for her twice-rejected withdrawal agreement before the EU Summit on March 21-22. Realistically, no one expects the third time will be a charm," DBS Group Research strategists Philip Wee and Joanne Goh said in a commentary.

The British pound retreated to $1.3288 from $1.3337 in early trading. The dollar jumped to 111.67 yen from 111.17 yen and the euro eased to $1.1324 from $1.1326.

In Asia, stocks wobbled after China said its industrial output grew at the slowest pace in 17 years. It added 5.3 percent in the first two months of 2019 from the same period last year, official data showed Thursday.

Other numbers beat analyst's expectations. Chinese retail sales climbed 8.2 percent and fixed asset investment rose 6.1 percent in the same period. The National Bureau of Statistics combines readings for January and February to account for the Lunar New Year holiday, where many factories and businesses are closed.

"The focus would likely return to economic policies very soon and expectations for the raft of policies announced thus far to help shore up economic performance," Jingyi Pan of IG said in an interview.

Japan's benchmark Nikkei 225 was almost flat at 21,287.02 while the Kospi in South Korea was up 0.3 percent at 2,155.68. Hong Kong's Hang Seng gained 0.2 percent to 28,851.39. Australia's S&P/ASX 200 rose 0.3 percent to 6,179.60.

The Shanghai Composite gave up 1.2 percent to 2,990.69. Shares fell Taiwan and Thailand but rose in Indonesia.

ENERGY: Oil prices were boosted by a weekly U.S Energy Information Administration report showing that crude stockpiles fell by 3.9 million barrels from the previous week. This marked the second decline in three weeks. Benchmark U.S. crude rose 31 cents to $58.57 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It gained $1.39 to settle at $58.26 per barrel on Wednesday. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 42 cents to $67.97 per barrel. It picked up 88 cents to close at $67.55 per barrel in London.