Sterling hit a 2016 high and world stocks climbed for a fifth day running on Thursday, as British voters headed to the polls for a crucial vote on their European Union membership.

Financial markets have been wracked for months by worries about what a potential Brexit would mean for Europe's stability but the latest opinion polls showing the "Remain" camp holding a small lead have provided some comfort.

The pound, which has been the lightning rod of Brexit opinion throughout the six-month campaign, was up 0.3 percent at $1.4765 in early European trading having risen to its 2016 high of $1.4847 overnight.

In the equity markets, London's FTSE was up 0.6 percent and neck and neck with German's DAX at the top of European leader board, both of which helped push MSCI's 46-country All World index higher.

"You look at the markets and they expecting a remain win, cable (sterling/dollar) at above $1.48 at one point this morning tells you it all," said Societe Generale FX strategist Alvin Tan.

With the polls still incredibly tight and having proved unreliable in last year's UK election, caution remained however.

Share trading across Europe was just a third of its normal level and two-thirds lower than average on the UK's FTSE Reuters data showed.