The pound sterling leapt higher on Thursday after exit polls showed Prime Minister Boris Johnson's ruling Conservative Party on track to win a wide parliamentary majority, a result seen as hastening Brexit.

Meanwhile, global stock markets rallied with Wall Street in record territory following reports Washington and Beijing had at long last sealed a partial trade deal and agreed to de-escalate their tariff battles.

The British exit poll suggested the Conservatives would win 368 seats in the 650-seat parliament, with the main opposition Labour party trailing on 191.

Shortly after 2200 GMT, a pound rose about two percent against the dollar $1.3416 and was up 1.6 percent against the euro at 83.25 pence.

"It gives Johnson the mandate to push over the Brexit," said Shaun Osborne, chief currency strategist at Scotiabank. "For the UK it provides some clarity for the economy."

Meanwhile in New York, stocks forged into record territory after media reports indicated President Donald Trump would call off steep tariffs planned for Sunday and slash duties already in place on Chinese goods.

UK general elections
The pound is in focus as voters go to the polls in Britain's key general election. Photo: AFP / Ben STANSALL

The S&P 500 and Nasdaq both set new records.

"Getting VERY close to a BIG DEAL with China. They want it, and so do we!" Trump tweeted early in the day, giving stocks a lift.

But Karl Haeling of LBBW told AFP the devil was in the details as negotiation breakthroughs had appeared to fall apart before.

"We've been down this road before," he said.

UK general elections
Lagarde got a lot of attention at her first ECB news conference. Photo: AFP / Daniel ROLAND

The ECB, meanwhile, gave markets little to trade on as Christine Lagarde chaired her first monetary policy council meeting and held her news conference in her new post.

The bank left interest rates unchanged and a maintained its massive bond-buying program, as expected.

ECB economists also came up with figures suggesting both an uptick in inflation and "signs of stabilisation in the growth slowdown," which provided the euro with some tailwind.

Lagarde said she would develop her own style and claimed to be neither dovish nor hawkish but aimed to be a "wise owl."

Still, Lagarde "came off as slightly hawkish," OANDA analyst Edward Moya said. "Lagarde seems poised to help take the eurozone out of negative rates."

Asian equity markets mostly closed higher after the Federal Reserve on Wednesday indicated it was unlikely to change US interest rates throughout next year.

The US central bank, which cut the key borrowing rate three times this year, said after a two-day meeting it would hold them for now and set its sights on low inflation and the global economy.

Pound/dollar: UP at $1.3470 from $1.3196 at 2200 GMT

Euro/pound: DOWN at 82.87 pence from 84.35 pence

Euro/dollar: UP at $1.1177 from $1.1130

Dollar/yen: UP at 109.30 yen from 108.56 yen

New York - Dow: UP 0.8 percent at 28,132.05 (close)

New York - S&P 500: UP 0.9 percent at 3,168.57 (close)

New York - Nasdaq up 0.7 percent at 8,717.32 (close)

London - FTSE 100: UP 1.0 percent at 7,287.00 points (close)

Frankfurt - DAX 30: UP 0.6 percent at 13,221.64 (close)

Paris - CAC 40: UP 0.4 percent at 5,884.26 (close)

EURO STOXX 50: UP 0.5 percent at 3,706.35 (close)

Tokyo - Nikkei 225: UP 0.1 percent at 23,424.81 (close)

Hong Kong - Hang Seng: UP 1.3 percent at 26,994.14 (close)

Shanghai - Composite: DOWN 0.3 percent at 2,915.70 (close)

Brent North Sea crude: UP 0.8 percent at $64.20 per barrel

West Texas Intermediate: UP 0.7 percent at $59.18

Copyright AFP. All rights reserved.

UK general elections
A combination of pictures created in London on November 29, 2019 shows Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn (L) and Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson (R) campaigning for the general election and US President Donald Trump (C) speaking. Photo: AFP / Ben STANSALL