PARIS -   A massive drop in profits at banking giant HSBC helped push London and Hong Kong stocks into negative territory on Tuesday, while a firm Wall Street gave eurozone markets a boost.

Protectionist fears under Donald Trump and uncertainties caused by Brexit sparked a huge plunge in 2016 profits, HSBC said, prompting a fall in its share price of over six percent in London and dragging the rest of the financial sector lower. Shares in Barclays, Standard Chartered and Lloyds joined the downward trend.

Sterling weakness against the dollar, which has helped lift the FTSE index since last year's Brexit vote, failed to turn the market around this time. "Having helped lead the way yesterday, banks are today's index millstone," said Michael van Dulken, head of research at Accendo Markets in London.

Wall Street posted early gains as investors returned from a three-day weekend, after reaching new records in six of its seven previous sessions. Asian markets mostly rose, with Tokyo boosted by a jump in the dollar against the yen amid intensifying talk that the Federal Reserve could lift interest rates as soon as next month.

But Hong Kong, where HSBC shares are also listed, suffered from what Van Dulken called a "whopping" profit drop. The reason HSBC gave for its earnings decline sent new shivers through markets already spooked by uncertainty over political stability in Europe, Brexit and US trade policies.

"We highlight the threat of populism impacting policy choices in upcoming European elections, possible protectionist measures from the new US administration impacting global trade, uncertainties facing the UK and the EU as they enter Brexit negotiations," group chairman Douglas Flint said in a statement filed to the Hong Kong stock exchange. On the bright side, mining giant BHP Billiton gained nearly one percent in Sydney as it reported a dramatic rebound in half-yearly profits on the back of surging coal and iron ore prices and improved productivity. The results also lifted BHP's stock in London and fellow minter Rio Tinto, but Anglo American was lower after the company reported results. Eurozone stock markets meanwhile were underpinned by a key survey saying the eurozone economy grew at its fastest pace in six years in February, as all signs pointed to the recovery maintaining "strong momentum".

Data monitoring company IHS Markit also said job creation in the 19-country eurozone recorded its best level for nearly a decade. The dollar climbed against its peers following comments from the head of the Fed's Philadelphia branch, Patrick Harker, that a March rate rise was not "off the table at this point".

Expectations of a hike have increased since Donald Trump was elected president in November as dealers bet his big-spending, tax-cutting plans will fan inflation. Investors are keeping an eye on the release this week of Fed minutes from its most recent policy meeting hoping for fresh clues about its plans for rates.

Oil prices, meanwhile, made strong gains as investors focused on OPEC's apparent ability to stick to agreed production cuts, with rising US production seen as less of a worry, but perhaps not for long. "While oil prices could edge higher amid the supply cut optimism, the concealed concerns of US shale boosting oil production and negatively impacting OPEC's efforts could create some headwinds in the future," cautioned Luzdary Hammad at FXTM.