U.S. stock-index futures pointed to a slightly lower open on the first trading day of 2014 after data showed jobless claims falling for a second week in a row amid fears of slower growth in China, which weighed on Asian stocks.
Stock futures remained modestly down after the government reported jobless claims slipped by 2,000 last week to a seasonally adjusted 339,000.
"The next question for claims is whether Congress extends emergency benefits again past the 26 weeks that the states currently offer," emailed Peter Boockvar, chief market strategist at the Lindsey Group.
HSBC's final reading on Chinese manufacturing showed a three-month low in December. This followed Wednesday's official reading, which missed expectations, and confirmed the world's second biggest economy lost momentum in the last three months of 2013.
"This is still the December reading, so we're closing out 2013 on a softer note in China," said Frederic Neumann, co-head of Asian economics research at HSBC. "The biggest surprise here is the weak new export order reading, with new orders contracting."
At 10 a.m. Eastern, there will be the ISM (Institute of Supply Management) index, tracking changes in U.S. manufacturing in December, plus construction spending numbers for November.
"We may see some moderation in the ISM, while the jobless claims data is less reliable at present, given the seasonal adjustment difficulties around holiday times," said Bank of Tokyo Mitsubishi's Derek Halpenny in a research note.
No U.S. companies of note are due to report earnings before Wall Street opens on Thursday.
Stocks worth watching include Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, which said it had recalled donkey meat sold in China after tests showed the food contained the DNA of other animals. The scandal could hit the company's reputation for quality food in China.
European stocks were marginally lower in early trade after manufacturing data gave a mixed picture of the euro zone's economic recovery. PMI (purchasing managers' index) numbers for December met expectations, but data for France missed forecasts and showed a continuing decline in factory activity.
(Read more: Europe stocks edge lower; euro zone data mixed)
However, shares of Fiat soared 15 percent after the Italian carmaker announced it would buy out the rest of U.S. subsidiary Chrysler, in a $4.35 billion deal.
U.S. stocks closed 2013 at record highs, with the S&P 500 posting its largest annual jump in 16 years, and the benchmark Dow Jones Industrial Average its biggest gain in 18 years. The Nasdaq Composite posted its best year since 2009.
—By CNBC's Katy Barnato