Standard & Poors created a flutter in global stock markets by threatening to downgrade Europe's most credit-worthy countries, which raised questions about who remained to bail out its least credit-worthy nations.
Britain's FTSE 100 edged 0.2 per cent higher, France's CAC 40 inched 0.2 per cent lower, and Germany's DAX lost 0.6 per cent. Japan's Nikkei fell 1.4 per cent, while Hong Kong's Hang Seng dipped 1.2 per cent.
U.S. stock futures appeared stronger. S&P 500 futures rose 4.6 points, or 0.4 per cent. Dow futures bobbed in and out of the red, trading up 55 points, or 0.5 per cent, at 12,121 about two hours before the New York Stock Exchange opened.
S&P warned it may downgrade 15 of the 17 euro zone countries, including top-rated Germany and France, if EU leaders fail to agree on a plan to solve the debt crisis at a summit on Friday. The ratings agency left out only Cyprus, whose bonds have near-junk status, and Greece, whose low ratings already suggest it is likely to default soon.
The inclusion on the list of Germany and France means they could lose their coveted AAA ratings and might not be able to raise enough money to bail out their weaker neighbours.
Chancellor Angela Merkel played down the ratings news, saying the region is on the path out of its financial crisis and that the process would be long but fruitful.
Gold fell $11.80 to $1,722 (U.S.) an ounce.
U.S. crude oil inched 0.2 per cent higher to $101.15 a barrel.
The Canadian dollar traded at 98.24 U.S. cents.