MILAN/TOKYO - World stocks eased slightly on Wednesday as markets weighed risks from U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan and comments from Federal Reserve officials talking up the chance of aggressive interest rate hikes.
MSCI's benchmark for global stocks dipped by 0.1% by 0823 GMT, steadying after Tuesday's drop that took the index off the multi-week highs hit after a rally in July.
China furiously condemned the highest-level U.S. visit to Taiwan in 25 years as Pelosi pledged American solidarity to an island Beijing views as a breakaway province.
Although China kicked off a burst of military activity in Taiwan's surrounding waters, investors took some comfort in expectations that Beijing's actions would remain demonstrative.
AFS Group analyst Arne Petimezas said the mood found support as "Pelosi's visit failed to invoke a truly aggressive response by Beijing".
"Still, China will be holding large military drills inside Taiwan’s territory this week. Those drills are larger and closer to the island then they were during the last Taiwan Strait crisis in 1996," he added.
In Europe, the STOXX 600 equity benchmark index fell 0.1% after data showed business activity in the euro zone contracted slightly in July for the first time since early last year as consumers reined in spending.
Japan's Nikkei rose 0.5%, rebounding from Tuesday's two-week closing low, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng added 0.1% and Taiwan's TAIEX index rebounded from earlier losses to gain 0.2% at the close.
The MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares fell 0.25%, giving up earlier gains.
"Obviously, as investors in China, we would not like to see tensions escalate," said Thomas Masi, vice president and co-portfolio manager of the GW&K Emerging Wealth Strategy.
"And we don't see the benefit necessarily of this trip, but there could be something that we don't understand. On a risk-reward basis, should tensions ease, there's a lot more upside in these stocks," he added
U.S. stock futures were little changed, following the S&P 500's 0.7% drop overnight.
A trio of Fed policymakers signalled on Tuesday that there would be no let up in the tightening campaign aimed at taming the highest inflation since the 1980s, even though it will take rates to a level that will more significantly curb economic activity.
Two of them, San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly and Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, are widely regarded as doves.
Traders now see a chance of around 43.5% that the Fed will hike by another 75 basis points (bps) at its next meeting in September.
The benchmark U.S. 10-year Treasury yields added 1.3 bps to 2.755%, after surging on Tuesday by 14 bps as the hawkish Fed comments suggested more rate hikes are coming in the near term, as inflation has yet to hit its peak.
Germany's 10-year Bund yields, the benchmark for the region, were up around 8 bps at 0.864%.
The U.S. dollar index, which gauges the currency against six major peers, fell 0.25% to 106.17, having rebounded on Tuesday from a nearly one-month low at 105.03.
Gold gained 0.4% to $1,767.19 per ounce, but following a 0.7% retreat the previous session.
Oil prices dipped ahead of a meeting of OPEC+ producers at which producers are expected to keep output steady with spare capacity limited and against the backdrop of fears that a slowdown in global growth will hit fuel demand.
Brent crude futures were down $1.34, or 1.3%, at $99.20 a barrel at 0815 GMT. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures fell $1.28, or 1.4%, to $93.14 a barrel.
(Reporting by Danilo Masoni, Kevin Buckland and Sam Byford; Editing by Kim Coghill)