London - World stocks held steady, the euro edged down and oil and gold nudged up on Tuesday as traders kept a wary eye on tensions between Ukraine and Russia and the pace of growth in China.
That pattern was set in Asia, where markets took a break from recent volatile trading but struggled to do much more than make incremental moves. U.S. stock index futures and benchmark debt were also flat ahead of the Wall Street open.
World shares and the euro zone's blue-chip Euro STOXX 50 were both down 0.1 percent after hovering near the previous day's close for most of the morning, unable to match the marginal gains seen in Asia.
“Market players remain cautious. There's a lack of enthusiasm in chasing stocks, and some are just thinking about moving to the sidelines after the roller-coaster ride we've had since the start of the year,” said Guillaume Dumans, co-head of research firm 2Bremans.
The standout gainer across European indexes was Portugal's PSI 20, which rose 0.8 percent for a gain close to its three-year intraday high, as debt yields in the country dropped to their lowest since April 10 on optimism the country can exit its international bailout programme later this year.
Strong trade data from Germany, the region's economic powerhouse, helped the country's DAX index outperform. But gains were pared by late morning and safe-haven German debt edged off its lows on Ukraine concerns, with Bund futures at 142.64.
“Recent events, especially concerning Russia and Turkey, have made the outlook less certain, and their impact will only be felt in a few months from now,” said Markus Huber, a senior sales trader at Peregrine & Black.
Tensions over Ukraine continued to build on Tuesday. With diplomacy at a standstill, Ukraine's acting president announced the formation of a volunteer national guard, while ousted leader Viktor Yanukovich insisted he remained the country's legitimate leader.
Turkish assets have been hit by political scandals and a power struggle between Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan and a U.S.-based Muslim cleric.
The euro began the day on a lacklustre note and later extended its dip to be down 0.2 percent against the dollar after a leading central banker reminded the market that the European Central Bank was in accommodative mode.
Elsewhere, a safe-haven bid for the yen kept it flat, even after comments from Bank of Japan chief Haruhiko Kuroda that there was no need to adjust Japanese monetary policy for now.
“Dollar/yen has been in a range between 101-104 yen for much of this year and the yen needs a fresh trigger for the next leg of weakness,” said Peter Kinsella, currency strategist at Commerzbank. “That could come from a steady deterioration in Japan's trade and current account deficits.”
Against a basket of currencies, the U.S. dollar edged higher by late morning to trade up 0.1 percent.
After recent major ructions in metals markets following February's drop in Chinese exports, prices for industrial commodities bounced off recent lows but trade remained cautious.
Dealers in Asia remained especially nervous about iron ore, however, following an 8 percent slide on Monday that fuelled unease about the health of China's giant steel sector.
Both gold and crude oil extended early gains as Ukraine strengthened the bid in both markets and kept them near intraday highs.
Brent crude, Europe's regional benchmark, gained 49 cents to $108.57 a barrel, while gains for U.S. oil were more measured, ahead 28 cents. Both reversed a slight weakness during the Asian day.
Gold, meanwhile, was at $1,349 an ounce. In a sign of the recent jump in demand, the world's biggest bullion-backed exchange-traded fund saw its largest inflow in a month on Monday.
“Gold continues to be largely supported above $1,329, and while prices are unlikely to break above $1,361.60 in the absence of war, underlying support from the Ukrainian crisis ... is likely to keep prices elevated above $1,320 for an extended time,” said Joyce Liu, an analyst at Phillip Futures.