Benchmarks rose modestly in Frankfurt and Tokyo but slipped in London and Hong Kong.
Investors are awaiting the outcome of the U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting later Wednesday. It is expected to keep the benchmark rate at nearly zero for some time to help the economy recover from the pandemic downturn.
The U.S. central bank's statement might change some of the language around its existing pledge to buy bonds to support markets, economists say.
Japan’s central bank has begun a policy meeting that will wrap up Thursday but also is not expected to result in any major changes.
Germany's DAX was less than 0.1% higher at 13,223.43 while the CAC 40 in France was flat, at 5,067.95. The FTSE 100 in Britain edged 0.1% lower to 6,101.31. The futures for the S&P 500 and for the Dow industrials both gained 0.2%.
Japan reported that its trade balance swung into surplus in August as a 15% decline in exports from a year earlier was outpaced by a 21% drop in imports. Exports have been hammered by the coronavirus pandemic but the rate of decline has been narrowing over the past several months as shutdowns eased and the Chinese economy began to recover from a sharp downturn in early spring.
Japan's long-serving prime minister, Shinzo Abe, resigned as of Wednesday and was replaced by his chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga. Suga has said he intends to push ahead with Abe's policies and little change is expected for the world's third-largest economy.
Tokyo's Nikkei 225 edged 0.1% higher to 23,475.53 while the Hang Seng in Hong Kong was almost unchanged at 24,725.63. South Korea's Kospi gave up 0.3% to 2,435.92 and the S&P/ASX 200 in Sydney jumped 1% to 5,956.10. The Shanghai Composite index slipped 0.4% to 3,283.92.
India's Sensex edged 0.4% higher to 39,182.12 even as the number of the country's confirmed coronavirus cases jumped to nearly 5 million, second only to the U.S. case count of 6.6 million, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University. The actual number of cases is thought to be much higher.
On Tuesday, the S&P 500 rose 0.5% to 3,401.20 after gaining more than 1% earlier in the session, its second straight sizable gain following the benchmark' index's worst week since June.
Big Tech stocks have been bouncing back this week after suddenly losing altitude earlier this month amid worries that their prices had climbed too high.
Analysts expect more volatility for stocks in the months ahead as the market navigates uncertainty over the outcome of the election, pessimism that Democrats and Republicans in Washington will be able to reach a deal to send more aid to unemployed workers and an economy still struggling amid the pandemic.
Treasury yields were relatively steady. The yield on the 10-year Treasury was unchanged at 0.67%.
In other trading, U.S. benchmark crude oil rose 87 cents to $38.15 per barrel in electronic trading on the New York Mercantile Exchange. It surged $1.02 on Tuesday to $38.28 per barrel.
Brent crude, the international standard, picked up 82 cents to $41.35 per barrel.
The dollar fell to 105.21 Japanese yen from 105.43 yen late Tuesday. The euro climbed to $1.1865 from $1.1848.