World stocks inched to a three-week high and the dollar drifted lower on Thursday as markets waited to see if the Federal Reserve would raise U.S. interest rates for the first time in almost a decade, or opt to wait a little longer.
Before the announcement at 2:00 a.m. EDT, markets were still leaning towards the latter although the high uncertainty had kept Europe main markets at virtual standstill for most of the session after two days of gains.
Rises overnight in Asia meant MSCI's all-world share index had managed a three-week high, but it was small scale stuff and currency and bond markets moves were low key too.
The dollar was under some mild pressure, mostly from the euro after weak U.S. inflation data had underscored one of the arguments for the Fed to hold fire.
Wall Street meanwhile was also set for a subdued start after it had finished at a near month high on Wednesday while oil and other commodities gave back some of the sharp gains they had made.
"I think path (timeline for future moves) is more important than the rate decision today," said Didier Duret, Chief Investment Officer at ABN Amro.
"They want to stabilize the market's confidence, so I think they will wait till October ... but they will maintain a very prudent and cautious approach, after all they are still the masters of the universe."
The Fed's decision is attracting so much attention in world markets because a hike would be its first since 2006 as well as finally lifting rates from the near zero they have been at since the depths of the global financial crisis in late 2008.
It has been expected to pull the trigger for most of this year, but those expectations have faded following a bout of global market turmoil over the past couple of months, especially in China.
A further drop in jobless claims ahead of the U.S. open bolstered signs of improvement in the employment market. But futures price continued to suggest an only one in four chance of a hike later in the day.
The latest poll by Reuters on Wednesday also showed the majority of economists also now expect no hike, although it remains a close call.
Fedy steady go?
Wall Street's S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial and the Nasdaq indexes were expected to spend the final hours of the Fed countdown 0.2 and 0.3% in the red after all three hit near one-month highs on Wednesday.
MSCI's 45-country all world index had reached a similar peak overnight after Japan's Nikkei shrugged off another drop in exports to climb 1.4% and Australian and Malaysian shares rose 1 and 1.8%.
There was a late 2% dip in Chinese stocks, but after their recent volatility it raised few eyebrows.
Even if the Fed were to raise rates later, many market players expect officials to signal a cautious stance on the pace of future increases, rather than herald a brisk series of increases.
There is also the comfort that both the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan appear to be gearing up for fresh rounds of stimulus and rates are still being cut in many parts of the world.
Switzerland's central bank said on Thursday, for example, that its negative interest rates, the lowest in the world, would stay in place for the foreseeable future, as it seeks to weaken a "significantly overvalued" Swiss franc and combat a deeper-than-expected bout of deflation.
The latter worry was pinned on the recent slump in oil prices.
They appear to have largely stabilized over the past month following their April to August swoon but were giving up ground again ahead of U.S. trading. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude was down 1.5% at $46.45 per barrel and Brent back under $50 a barrel to $48.90.
Gold also dipped to $1,120 per ounce and silver and other metals markets were down too after most had made decent gains on Wednesday.
In bond markets there was no getting away from the Fed debate. The yield on the U.S. two-year treasury note, seen as most sensitive to the Fed's decision, held near a 4-1/2-year high at 0.803%.
Even if the central bank does not pull the trigger later, it is still expected to by the end of the year.
Euro zone bonds were largely steady, meanwhile, as France and Spain breezed through the potentially uncomfortable task of selling debt hours before the U.S. rate decision.