U.S. stock-index futures indicated a second day of losses after jobless claims edged higher last week and investors looked to data on sales of previously-owned homes.
Stock futures retained their declines after data had the government's count of Americans filing for unemployment benefits rising by 5,000 to 320,000 last week. The four-week moving average fell by 3,500 to 327,000.
Still weighing on the market, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen's suggestion on Wednesday that the Fed could start raising its target rate about six months after quantitative easing ends.
In its policy statement Wednesday, the Fed said the benchmark federal-funds rate will remain near zero for a "considerable time" after its asset-purchase program ends. When asked when rates would start to rise, Yellen said, "This is the kind of term it's hard to define but probably means something on the order of around six months, or that type of thing."
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The central bank decided to cut its monthly asset bond purchase program by another $10 billion to $55 billion per month.
Kit Juckes, global head of foreign exchange strategy at Societe Generale, said in a morning note that more FOMC members now expect higher rates in 2015, with an average expectation of 2016 coming to a close with interest rates close to 2.5 percent.
"Three points seem relevant. Firstly, with more members expecting rates to be at 1 percent by the end of 2015, there is an increased possibility that the first hike comes a bit earlier (in Q2?)," he wrote. "Secondly, there is recognition that the Fed will need to move briskly once they start, which is reflected in a wide range of expectations for 2016 but a higher average. And thirdly, there is no change, yet, to the expected final destination of policy."
Following Yellen's statement, U.S. stocks closed lower, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average slumping 114.02 points to end at 16,222.17, initially tumbling nearly 200 points after Yellen's comments.
Europe responded on Thursday with the Euro Stoxx 600 Index lower along with all major European bourses. Shares on both sides of the Atlantic had witnessed two days of gains at the start of the week, with investors focused on developments in Crimea, which seemed to show an easing of tensions between Russia and the West. Now however, investors' eyes are firmly fixed on the Fed.
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Existing-home sales and the Philadelphia Fed Survey are expected at 10:00 a.m. Eastern.