Forex Pros – European stock markets were down on Thursday, as shares in the financial sector led markets lower ahead of a policy setting meeting by the European Central Bank, while U.S. futures indexes pointed to a slightly higher open on Wall Street.

During European morning trade, the EURO STOXX 50 slumped 0.5%, France’s CAC 40 dipped 0.4%, while Germany’s DAX 30 edged 0.15% lower.

The ECB was expected to prepare markets for a possible rate hike, with investors waiting to see if ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet would use the phrase “strong vigilance” to signal a follow-up rate rise in June after last month’s rate increase.

Meanwhile, French lender Societe Generale tumbled 4.1% after reporting a 14% drop in first quarter income to EUR916 million, as it took a higher-than-expected charge after a revaluation of its own debt.

Across the sector, shares in Deutsche Bank dropped 1.3%, Spain’s second largest lender BBVA fell 1.9%, while Italian bank Unicredit saw shares sink 1.1%

On the upside, Dutch financial service provider ING Groep saw shares climb 1.7% after reporting a 12% increase in first quarter profit, as both its banking and insurance units contributed to the improved performance. 

Shares in French spirits maker Pernod Ricard jumped 1.3% after it said first revenue rose 5% to EUR1.62 billion, surpassing expectations for revenue of EUR1.56 billion, as sustained growth of strategic brands underpinned sales.

In London, the FTSE 100 edged 0.1% lower as shares in Lloyds Banking Group plunged 8% after reporting that it swung to a first quarter loss of GBP2.44 billion, as it set aside more money to cover bad loans, mainly in Ireland.

The disappointing results weighed on other banks, with Royal Bank of Scotland dropping 4.1% and Barclays slipping 1.2%.

The Bank of England was to announce its benchmark interest rate later in the day.

The outlook for U.S. equity markets, meanwhile, was modestly upbeat ahead of earnings reports from media giants Cablevision and DirecTv. Insurance provider AIG and online travel company were also due to release earnings later in the day. 

The Dow Jones Industrial Average futures pointed to a gain of 0.1%, S&P 500 futures indicated an increase of 0.06%, while the Nasdaq 100 futures climbed 0.18%.

Later in the day, the U.S. was to publish official data on initial jobless claims, while Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke was to speak at a public engagement.