Europe stocks close mixed ahead of crucial Brexit vote; sterling slips against the dollar

  • Sterling nosedives as British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox admits a legal risk remains present under Theresa May's revised Brexit deal.
  • French engineering firm Spie surges to the top of the Stoxx 600, up over 8 percent, after reporting strong full-year results.
  • Market fallout from the Ethiopia Airlines crash continues into Tuesday's trading session, with Boeing dragging the Dow lower at the open.

European markets closed mixed Tuesday ahead of a crucial vote in the U.K. Parliament on the country's Brexit withdrawal agreement.

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The pan-European Stoxx 600 closed provisionally just below the flatline, with sectors pointing in different directions. Investor attention was firmly focused on the Brexit deal in the U.K., with British lawmakers set to vote on whether to accept or reject Prime Minister Theresa May's deal ahead of the scheduled March 29 departure.

In a last-ditch attempt to persuade skeptical Brexiteers to accept her deal, May traveled to Strasbourg Monday night and won legally binding assurances from the EU over the most contentious part of the deal, the Irish backstop.

After rallying against the dollar earlier in the session, sterling nosedived in afternoon trade as British Attorney General Geoffrey Cox admitted a legal risk remained present under May's revised Brexit deal. The FTSE 100 got a slight boost from the pound's fall, climbing 0.2 percent.

Looking at individual stocks, French engineering firm Spie surged to the top of the European benchmark, up over 8 percent, after reporting strong full-year results. Swiss pharmaceutical firm Galenica also rose, up more than 6 percent, on the back of a 24 percent increase in net profit for 2018.

At the other end of the scale, Telecom Italia shares fell 5.75 percent after media reports revealed on Monday that investors were at loggerheads over the future of the struggling firm. Adyen stock, meanwhile, slumped 5.7 percent on news that pre-initial public offering (IPO) investors have sold a minority stake in the firm.

On Wall Street, the market fallout from the Ethiopia Airlines crash involving a Boeing 737 Max 8 continued into Tuesday's trading session, with Boeing dragging the Dow lower at the open. The U.K.'s Civil Aviation Authority was the latest to say it would ground all flights involving the U.S. aircraft maker's 737 Max jets following the incident.

In corporate news, German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz on Monday confirmed that the country's two largest publicly listed banks — Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank — were exploring a possible merger. Shares of both slipped on Tuesday after a strong rally Monday.