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LONDON, Dec 24 AFP

December 25 2012, 04:16AM

European equity markets have steadied in light Christmas Eve trade, with most investors away for the holidays, but sentiment was hampered by the impending US fiscal cliff, dealers say.

London's benchmark FTSE 100 index of top shares gained just 0.24 per cent to end at 5,954.18 points on Monday, finishing early for Christmas.

The Paris CAC 40 meanwhile dipped 0.24 per cent to close at 3,652.61.

Frankfurt had shut early on Friday.

In foreign exchange activity, the euro advanced to $US1.3219, up from $US1.3181 late in New York on Friday.

All three main European stock markets will remain closed on Tuesday and Wednesday, but will reopen for business on Thursday.

With an end-of-year deadline just days away, sparring Washington politicians have yet to strike a compromise that could prevent a US "fiscal cliff" of automatic taxation hikes and spending cuts from taking effect on January 1.

Experts warn that going over the cliff could force the world's biggest economy back into recession.

"Hopes have receded substantially during the past week that US politicians will be able to reach a compromise to avert the US going over the 'fiscal cliff' in the few remaining days before the end of the year," said ETX Capital trader Markus Huber.

"Trading volume is expected to be on the low side today as many major stock markets are either closed altogether or are only open for half a day."

He added: "It would not be too surprising if some moderate general profit taking would take place with traders taking some money off the table ahead of the holidays."

Before the weekend, Frankfurt's DAX 30 stocks index fell 0.47 per cent to end at 7,636.23 points on Friday. Milan also finished early, with the FTSE Mib index dropping 0.40 per cent to 16,333.95 points.

Investors remain worried about debt-laden Italy after the nation's Prime Minister Mario Monti resigned late last week after the Italian parliament passed a key budget vote.

The parliament was dissolved on Saturday, paving the way for an election.

Monti's resignation ended a technocrat government that was brought in to save Italy from the eurozone debt crisis.

Across in Asia on Monday, equities rose in quiet pre-Christmas trade after big losses in the previous session, as US lawmakers remain deadlocked in talks to avert the fiscal cliff.

With many markets open for just a half day, Hong Kong won 0.16 per cent, Shanghai gained 0.27 per cent, Sydney added 0.25 per cent and Seoul was flat.

Tokyo, Manila and Jakarta were closed for public holidays.