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European stocks mixed; London hits five-year high

European stock markets diverged on Wednesday, with London rallying on an increasing prospect of more cash stimulus from the Bank of England, while Paris dropped on profit-taking, analysts said.

In afternoon trading, London's FTSE 100 index of top companies rose 0.51 percent to 6,411.73 points -- rising above 6,400 for the first time for more than five years.

Frankfurt's DAX gained 0.20 percent to 7,767.86 points and in Paris the CAC 40 index fell 0.18 percent to 3,729.96.

"The apparent shift towards more easing by the UK central bank was sufficient to lift the FTSE 100 over the 6,400 mark, revisiting this level for the first time since January 2008," said Chris Beauchamp, an analyst at IG trading group.

"Looking to this afternoon we have plenty of US data, with the Fed minutes being of particular note."

Bank of England governor Mervyn King called for more quantitative easing stimulus cash earlier this month, minutes of the BoE's February meeting showed on Wednesday, pushing the pound to a near 16-month low against the euro.

The BoE's nine-member Monetary Policy Committee voted 6-3 to keep its QE cash stimulus amount at £375 billion ($574 billion, 429 billion euros), according to minutes from their February 6-7 gathering.

However, outgoing chief King was joined by fellow MPC members David Miles and Paul Fisher in calling for another £25 billion in stimulus cash as Britain faced the prospect of a third recession in five years.

While the BoE minutes lifted the FTSE, they dragged down sterling, which hit multi-month low points versus both the euro and dollar.

The British pound slumped to $1.5295 -- the lowest level since June -- and to 87.64 pence against the euro, a level not seen since October 2011.

In later trading, sterling stood at $1.5310 compared with $1.5425 late on Tuesday in New York. The pound weakened to 87.47 pence for one euro, from 86.81 pence.

The European single currency meanwhile edged up to $1.3392 from $1.3390 on Tuesday. The dollar rose to 93.72 yen from 93.54 yen.

Gold prices dropped to $1,602 an ounce from $1,607.75 on the London Bullion Market.

In company news, shares in Vodafone slipped 0.50 percent to 162.68 pence after the British mobile phone giant said it had successfully bid £790 million ($1.21 billion, 903 million euros) for a 4G licence to provide super-fast mobile Internet access across Britain.

Deutsche Boerse rose 0.65 percent to 47.97 euros after the German stock market operator said its earnings were hit last year by the "challenging market environment."

Deutsche Boerse said in a statement released late in Frankfurt on Tuesday that group net profit had fallen by 24.6 percent to 645 million euros ($866 million).

US stocks opened flat on Wednesday as investors digested mixed housing and inflation data and awaited the minutes of last month's Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting.

Five minutes into trading, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was up 0.01 percent, the S&P 500-stock index slipped 0.09 percent and the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite edged down 0.03 percent.

The Dow and the S&P finished at new five-year highs Tuesday after posting modest gains.

Asian stocks markets climbed on Wednesday, with dealers taking a positive cue from Wall Stree.