Traders work at the Knight Capital kiosk on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
Traders work at the Knight Capital kiosk on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, February 21, 2012. REUTERS

U.S. stock index futures point to a slightly lower opening Thursday ahead of the crucial European Central Bank meeting in Frankfurt where a cut in interest rates is likely to be announced.

Futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average were down 0.16 percent, futures on the Standard & Poor's 500 index were down 0.20 percent and futures on the Nasdaq 100 index were down 0.20 percent.

Market participants are hoping that at the ECB meeting Thursday, there will be an announcement of a 1 percent cut in the main refinancing rate. Investors, taking into account the fact that euro zone labor market indicators has worsened in the last month, will call for stimulus measures.

Investors are likely to focus on the Department of Labor's weekly U.S. jobless claims data report. The initial jobless claims report, which measures the number of individuals who filed for unemployment insurance for the first time in the last week, is expected to show a decline to 385,000 in the week ending June 30, down from 386,000 recorded in the previous week.

Automatic Data Processing (ADP) will release its National Employment Report on Thursday. The report is a measure of the monthly change in non-farm, private employment based on the payroll data of approximately 400,000 U.S. business clients. It is expected to show a decline in job creation to 102,000 in June from 133,000 in May.

U.S. markets were closed Wednesday for the Independence Day holiday. On Tuesday, the U.S. markets rose as investor sentiment turned positive with a rise in May factory orders. According to data released by the Commerce Department, factory orders rose 0.7 percent in May, up from a 0.6 percent decrease in April. The Dow Jones industrial average advanced 0.56 percent, the S&P 500 Index was up 0.62 percent and the Nasdaq Composite Index gained 0.84 percent.

Major European indices were in the red as investors remained cautious, resting hopes that the ECB and Bank of England will inject more stimuli into their struggling economies. London's FTSE 100 was down 2.88 points, Germany's DAX 30 index declined 8.69 points and France's CAC 40 fell 8.09 points.

Asian markets also fell Thursday following global cues. Market players sense the urgent need for further monetary easing policy steps from central banks.