Stock index futures pointed to a lower open on Thursday, ahead of a slew of earnings news, with futures for the S&P 500 down 0.04 percent, the Dow Jones industrial average 0.1 percent lower and the Nasdaq 100 futures down 0.2 percent.

Before the bell, investors will be braced for fourth-quarter numbers from Goldman Sachs, with analysts in a Reuters survey forecasting the company to earn $5.19 a shares compared to a loss of $4.97 a year ago. Goldman Sachs shares in Frankfurt advanced 1.2 percent.

After the market close, investors will eye Google's fourth-quarter earnings, with analysts in a Reuters survey expecting the company to earn $6.48 a share compared to $5.10 a year ago.

Other companies due to report include American Express, Xerox, Capital One and UnitedHealth Group.

President Barack Obama, reeling from an election defeat in the Senate, will propose stricter limits on financial risk-taking on Thursday in a move that may recall Depression-era curbs on banks.

Shares in EBay Inc may also be in the spotlight. The company late on Wednesday forecast 2010 results would be above expectations after posting double-digit revenue growth in PayPal and its main online marketplaces unit. EBay's shares in Frankfurt were up 4.8 percent.

Also on late Wednesday, Starbucks Corp posted its first quarterly rise in U.S. same-store sales in two years, signaling that recession-weary consumers are spending more on small, daily luxuries. Starbuck's shares were up 7.2 percent in Frankfurt.

On the macroeconomic front, U.S. weekly jobless claims are due at 1330 GMT (8:30 a.m. EST), while at 1500 GMT (10 a.m. EST) is the release of U.S. December leading indicators and January's Philly Fed index.

In Asia, China easily beat its 2009 growth target after a blistering performance in the fourth quarter that forms a powerful springboard for it to jump over Japan this year to become the world's second-largest economy.

Asian shares were mostly lower, but the Nikkei Average bucked the trend and gained 1.2 percent. However, crude fell 0.3 percent as the dollar surged to a four-month high on Thursday.

European shares were flat in early trade on Thursday, with weakness in banks and miners just offsetting gains in defensive drugmakers, as investors stayed cautious ahead of further corporate earnings from the U.S.

The Dow suffered its worst drop of 2010 on Wednesday as U.S. stocks succumbed to fears that China's curbs on bank lending might jeopardize the global economic recovery, while IBM's outlook sparked caution about the technology sector.

The Dow Jones industrial average tumbled 1.1 percent, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 1.1 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index dropped 1.3 percent.

(Reporting by Joanne Frearson; Editing by Jon Loades-Carter)