US stocks pushed to new heights on Wednesday as the dollar retreated, while European equities fell as tighter lockdowns dampened enthusiasm over another vaccine receiving its first approval.
Despite higher $2,000 stimulus checks hitting a snag in the Senate, investors appeared content that some money was being injected into US households and businesses under government spending legislation signed into law this weekend.
Investors also greeted news that Britain approved AstraZeneca and Oxford University's Covid-19 vaccine, another option to tame the deadly disease. The United States has already cleared vaccines from Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna.
The Dow eked out a fresh record, while the S&P 500 and Nasdaq both edged higher but ended short of all-time highs.
"Investors are taking a breather," said Maris Ogg of Tower Bridge Advisors. "We are running a bit out of gas after the big moves of the last quarter."
The Astra jab -- which will be rolled out in Britain from January 4 -- can be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions.
It is therefore cheaper and easier to administer than the rival Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines which require freezing, and has sparked renewed hope of a return to normalcy in 2021.
While London stocks initially rose on the news, they turned lower in afternoon trading despite European Union and British leaders signing their post-Brexit trade deal -- with just one day to go until the UK finally leaves the bloc.
London's FTSE 100 index ended the day 0.7 percent lower as tighter confinement measures were extended across England.
- Bitcoin's blistering run -
In the eurozone, Paris stocks shed 0.2 percent while Frankfurt slid 0.3 percent in a shortened trading session as Germany mulled extending its virus lockdown in the face of rising cases and deaths.
Frankfurt's blue-chip DAX 30 index rose 3.6 percent over 2020, a roller coaster of a year that saw it hit new records at the beginning but then plunging 40 percent over the coronavirus pandemic only to rally on stimulus measures and vaccines to hit a new peak in December.
Asia was also mostly firmer with vaccine and economic recovery optimism helping investors look past an alarming surge in Covid-19 cases around the world.
In foreign exchange activity, the US dollar languished around 2.5-year lows versus the euro and pound, as investor appetite grew for riskier assets like equities.
Bitcoin, the world's most popular cyber currency, extended this month's blistering run to strike another record high at $28,859.65.
"Bitcoin mania is running wild as bearish bets against the dollar rise to the highest levels since 2011," said market analyst Edward Moya at OANDA.
"Macro crypto traders and haters of fiat currencies remain blindly ultra-bullish and that could help Bitcoin test the $30,000 level before the year ends," he added.
- Key figures around 2200 GMT -
New York - Dow: UP 0.2 percent at 30,409.56 (close)
New York - S&P 500: UP 0.1 percent at 3,732.04 (close)
New York - Nasdaq: UP 0.2 percent at 12,870.00 (close)
London - FTSE 100: DOWN 0.7 percent at 6,555.82 (close)
Frankfurt - DAX 30: DOWN 0.3 percent at 13,718.78 (close)
Paris - CAC 40: 0.2 percent at 5,599.41 (close)
EURO STOXX 50: DOWN 0.3 percent at 3,571.59 (close)
Tokyo - Nikkei 225: DOWN 0.5 percent at 27,444.17 (close)
Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 2.2 percent at 27,147.11 (close)
Shanghai - Composite: UP 1.1 percent at 3,414.45 (close)
Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3624 from $1.3502 at 2200 GMT
Euro/pound: DOWN at 90.27 pence from 90.71 pence
Euro/dollar: UP at $1.2299 from $1.2249
Dollar/yen: DOWN at 103.20 yen from 103.58 yen
West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.8 percent at $48.40 per barrel
Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.5 percent at $51.34 per barrel