European benchmarks were hit in early trading by a fall across the banking sector Thursday as investors reacted to the latest Fed meeting minutes that suggest a move to lighten its mammoth balance sheet could be just around the corner.

Minutes from the Federal Open Market Committee meeting showed a growing consensus among rate setters that it is time for the U.S. central bank to begin dumping some of the Treasuries and mortgage bonds that it picked up during the course of its quantitative easing program.

"Although several participants were prepared to announce a starting date for the program at the current meeting, most preferred to defer that decision until an upcoming meeting while accumulating additional information on the economic outlook and developments potentially affecting financial markets," the minutes read. 

The Fed said earlier this month that its balance sheet has expanded from $896 billion in 2007 to "well over $2 trillion" today. 

The FTSE 100 and CAC 40 indices led the charge lower from London and Paris Thursday, dropping 0.14% and 0.13% respectively, to 7,410 and 5,154. In Frankfurt, the DAX index dropped 0.10% to 12,251 while, over in Southern Europe, the IBEX was down 0.12% in Madrid and the FTSE MIB was up by a fraction in Milan. 

U.S. markets look set to open down on Thursday. Dow Jones Industrial Average futures were down 0.04% and S&P 500 future losing 0.07% as worries mount over President Donald Trump's agenda and markets digested the Fed's concern over weak inflation.

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