European stock markets held on to gains but the euro turned sharply lower Thursday after the European Central Bank said a decision to leave its key rate unchanged was not unanimous.
Traders had largely expected the ECB to hold fire on interest rates at its last policy meeting of 2012, but the revelation by ECB head Mario Draghi that some members of the governing council supported a rate cut was enough for markets to pull back from session highs.
In Britain, the Bank of England also froze its record-low interest rate in a widely expected move one day after the British government extended austerity measures and slashed growth forecasts.
Shortly after the rate decisions in afternoon trading, London's benchmark FTSE 100 index was up 0.23 per cent at 5,905.86 points, Frankfurt's DAX 30 gained 0.83 per cent to 7,516.30 points and in Paris the CAC 40 won 0.14 per cent to stand at 3,611.25.
In foreign exchange deals, the euro slumped to $US1.3031 from $US1.3064 late in New York on Wednesday as gold prices eased to $US1,693 an ounce on the London Bullion Market, from $US1,694 on Wednesday.
The ECB's decision-making governing council voted to leave the bank's main refinancing rate at a historic low of 0.75 per cent at its regular monthly meeting in the Eurotower headquarters in Frankfurt.
"There was a wide discussion, but in the end the prevailing consensus was to leave the rates unchanged," Draghi told a news conference.
Draghi added that bank staff had slashed their growth projections for 2012 and 2013 and drawn up its initial forecast for 2014 which also weighed on sentiment.
Traders also took stock of a fresh credit rating downgrade for Greece and official data confirming that the eurozone's economy had contracted by 0.1 per cent in the third quarter, sending the 17-nation currency bloc into recession.
US stocks opened mixed meanwhile as markets there continued their patient wait for a political deal in the fiscal cliff deficit talks.
Five minutes into trade the Dow Jones Industrial Average added 0.04 per cent, the S&P 500 slipped 0.03 per cent, while the Nasdaq Composite lost 0.13 per cent.
In Washington, Republicans and Democrats are locked in talks aimed at agreeing a deficit-cutting plan that would avert the fiscal cliff of huge tax hikes and spending cuts due to come into effect on January 1.
Shares in EADS surged 7.22 per cent after the European Aeronautic Defence and Space Company, which owns the plane maker Airbus, unveiled a deal to restructure shareholdings.
The agreement, announced Wednesday, was aimed at reducing the role of France and Germany but preserve their strategic interests.
In Frankfurt, Daimler rose 0.96 per cent after the German automaker halved its stake in EADS, as planned, and pocketed 1.66 billion euros ($US2.2 billion) in proceeds.
The deal cuts in half Daimler's stake to 7.5 per cent and the buyers included the German state-owned investment bank KfW, which purchased a stake of 2.76 per cent and the Dedalus investor consortium, which acquired 1.9 per cent.
But Rolls-Royce shed 2.90 per cent after the aircraft engine maker warned it may be prosecuted over alleged "malpractice" in Indonesia and China after passing on information related to bribery concerns to Britain's fraud office.
Shares in GDF Suez plunged by over 14 per cent after the French-based energy group announced a vast restructuring plan that aims to cut its debt by a third to 30 billion euros in the next two years.
They later recovered some ground to show a loss of 12.3 per cent in afternoon trade.
Asian markets were mixed on Thursday with Tokyo ending 0.81 per cent higher, Sydney down 0.25 and Hong Kong closing flat.