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European stocks, euro edge upwards

Europe's main stock markets traded slightly higher on Monday, as investors paused for breath after last week's rally, while attention turned to weak eurozone data and turbulence in the airline sector.

London's FTSE 100 index of top companies rose 0.26 percent to 6,300.48 points in afternoon deals, as Frankfurt's DAX 30 added 0.04 percent to stand at 7,860.92 points. The Paris CAC 40 was up 0.25 percent at 3,787.76 points.

European equities and the euro had rallied on Friday, with Frankfurt hitting a five-year high, following positive German data.

In foreign exchange trading on Monday, the European single currency edged up $1.3464 from $1.3457 late in New York on Friday, when the euro also hit an 11-month high versus the greenback.

The single currency had reached a high point before the weekend after the European Central Bank revealed that 278 eurozone banks would repay early 137 billion euros ($184 billion) of ultra-cheap three-year loans.

But in a reminder that all was not rosy, data on Monday showed that bank lending to private households in the euro area contracted again in December as the region's crippling debt crisis continues to put a freeze on demand for credit.

Eurozone bank loans to the private sector declined by 0.7 percent in December compared with the same month in 2011 after already shrinking by 0.8 percent the previous month, the European Central Bank said in a statement.

On the London Bullion Market on Monday, gold prices fell to $1,656.75 an ounce from $1,660 on Friday.

In stock market activity, Ryanair shares rebounded from session lows as the no-frills airline raised its full-year profit forecast after announcing a 21-percent earnings jump in the group's third quarter.

"Ryanair reported numbers for Q4 that saw strong growth in European fares, but the market was underwhelmed by a warning of marginal passenger growth in 2013, capped by a slow-down in plane deliveries," said CMC Markets trader Matt Basi.

Finnair also clawed back earlier losses to 2.99 euros after announcing that its chief executive Mika Vehvilaeinen would step down from his post at the end of February.

Vehvilaeinen, who helped bring the beleaguered airline to profit in the first nine months of 2012 after two years in the red, is leaving to take over as head of cargo handling equipment group Cargotec, Finnair said.

British no-frills airline easyJet retreated 0.69 percent to 938.5 pence, a day after saying that its chairman Mike Rake was to step down this year, following a long battle with the company's founder and largest shareholder Stelios Haji-Ioannou.

Asian markets began the week on a mixed note, with the Nikkei sinking on profit-taking after breaking 11,000 points in early trade, while Seoul closed lower.

In the United States, stocks opened slightly higher after new orders for durable manufactured goods came in higher for December, led by a jump in commercial aircraft orders.

Five minutes into trade, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.11 percent, the broad-based S&P 500 added 0.50 percent and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite Index rose 0.17 percent.

The gains came after the Dow rose Friday to its best level since October 2007 and the S&P 500 finished above 1,500 points for the first time since December 2007.