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FTSE hits five-month high with retailer Next best thing

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's top shares edged to a new five-month high on Wednesday, boosted by good earnings from the likes of Next but suffering in later trade from profit taking ahead of a U.S. Federal Reserve policy decision.

Britain's second-biggest clothing retailer rose 4.7 percent after it raised its 2013 profit guidance and third-quarter sales came in a touch above expectations.

"Earnings thus far we are pleased with, as forward-looking estimates edge up," Atif Latif, director of trading at Guardian Stockbrokers, said.

"Given the lack of available yield from fixed income, equities remain the best asset class for investors."

The FTSE 100 closed up 2.97 points, flat in percentage terms, at 6,777.70 points, eking out its fifth successive day of gains and hitting its highest levels since May.

However, the market pared earlier strong gains after the opening of U.S. markets, which were flat ahead of the outcome of a two-day U.S. Federal Reserve policy meeting.

The expectation that the Fed will maintain current levels of asset purchases in its announcement after Wednesday's close helped support the FTSE near its May high, which itself was the highest level for the index in 13 years.

Barclays also benefited from better earnings, advancing 0.9 percent after underlying pretax profits beat forecasts.

"Generally speaking, our clients are favouring the banks, as they like the cyclical story," Matt Basi, head of sales trading at CMC Markets, said, although he was cautious over risks that remain in the sector. Among those, he cited an investigation, which Barclays said it was co-operating with, into possible manipulation of currency trading

"Barclays have written down a smaller amount than some were expecting ... but I'm not quite sure what to make of potential bad news to come."

Overall, financials were mixed, and insurer Standard Life was the top FTSE faller, down 3.9 percent after new business and asset growth for the third quarter fell short of forecasts.

Around 53 percent of companies on the pan-European STOXX 600 index that have reported results so far have beaten or met market expectations, Thomson Reuters Starmine data showed.

(Editing by Alison Williams)