Chinese stocks slipped, Europe was mixed, and US futures gained as investors await the Federal Reserve's policy decision later on Wednesday.
Gold reached an eight-month high as investors sought a safe haven while navigating a minefield of global market catalysts.
SA gold shares rocketed, with Sibanye up more than 3% to R11.50 and Harmony gained 3% to R27.22.
The pound steadied after a two-day decline as investors worry again about the prospect of the UK crashing out of the European Union without a deal.
A Reuters poll found that traders are pricing in only a slight chance of one rate increase for 2019 as a whole, though most economists expect two, in the second and fourth quarters. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell will give a press conference in Washington after the FOMC rate decision.
Here's the roundup as of mid-morning on Wednesday:
"The market is expecting a more cautious Fed with the possibility of a rate hike in the near term being ruled out," said Jasper Lawler, Head of Research at London Capital Group. "As the US data starts to feed through following the US government shutdown, it points to slower growth. Not the environment for further hikes."
Among other catalysts for markets on Wednesday:
The pound dropped significantly as lawmakers voted against a plan that would have ruled out a so-called hard Brexit, or leaving the European Union without a deal. It has found a support level and is steadying at about 1.3113 to the US dollar. It is currently at R17.80 to a rand.
Prime Minister Theresa May will now re-start talks with the EU.
"The market was clearly not cheered by a result that legally keeps no deal on the table, given that sterling has responded by surrendering some of its recent gains," said Geoffrey Yu, head of the UK investment office at UBS Global Wealth Management. "Investors would have appreciated a more conclusive view on rejecting such an outcome."
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