LONDON -- Investors were sitting on their hands ahead of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee's decision on interest rates, expected around 7 a.m. EDT. The FTSE 100 eased 41 points in early trading before gaining slightly to stand 20.4 points higher at 6443.2. The Techmark index, following the Nasdaq as usual, shed 42.7 points to 3386.1.

Although the majority of economists expected interest rates to be left where they were at 6%, financial stocks continued to be sold off. The main concerns were increased competition in mortgage lending, which could precipitate a full-scale price war, as well as the threat to margins posed by increased spending on the Internet and marketing.

This morning's major casualty in this sector was the recently floated

Egg

. The online bank, which floated three weeks ago at 160p per share, fell another 7p to 143 ($2.16). The market was reacting to reports that customers of Internet banks face unlimited liability for fraudulent transactions, which could pose a threat to business.

Barclays

(BCS) - Get Report

fell 4p to

14.96, having fallen 90p Wednesday.

Telecom shares were firm as the market digested Wednesday's second-quarter mobile subscriber numbers and expectations that Holland's auction for third-generation mobile licenses, which begins today, won't prove such a pricey affair as the one in the U.K. News emerged that two more bidders had pulled out at the last minute.

Vodafone AirTouch

(VOD) - Get Report

was a fraction dearer at 297.5, while

British Telecom

(BTY)

was unchanged at 900.

KPN

(KPN)

surged 4.00 euros, or 8.9%, to 48.90 in Amsterdam.

Cable & Wireless

(CWP)

held on to Wednesday's gains at

12.45 as the market held its breath, waiting to see if there was any substance to the recent report that

Deutsche Telekom

(DT) - Get Report

is set to pounce. DT was up 0.70 euro to 58.15.

Most of Europe's other major stock markets were also slightly lower, with the

Xetra Dax

in Frankfurt down 3.78 to 6957.95 and the

CAC 40

in Paris 19.50 lower to 6443.20. The

Neuer Markt's

tech-heavy

Nemax 50

index was off 72.9 to 6012.2.

Most blue-chip German tech shares were hurt by the Nasdaq's poor performance Wednesday, with

Siemens

(SMAWY)

down 2.57 euros to 164.55 ($156.72),

Epcos

(EPC) - Get Report

down 5.72 euros to 105.15 and

SAP

(SAP) - Get Report

down 4.00 euros to 193.20.

Volkswagen

(VLKAY)

dropped 0.11 euro to 40.89 after a report that the carmaker will have to pay the

European Commission

90 million euros for violating antitrust rules.

DaimlerChrysler

(DCX)

fell 0.43 euro to 55.78.