Wall Street is plainly split on whether the Fed will hike next week, with some saying the markets are already displaying enough volatility to sideline the central bank for several months or more.
But most agree the markets have not priced in a rate increase, and there could be a violent reaction to whatever it does.
On the data front, initial jobless claims fell 6,000 to a seasonally adjusted 275,000 for the week ended Sept. 5, the Labor Department said on Thursday. It was the 27th straight week that claims remained below the 300,000 threshold, which is usually associated with a strengthening labor market.
U.S. import and export prices posted their largest drop in seven months.
Treasury yields held slightly below earlier levels, with the 2-year yield at 0.73 percent and the 10-year yield at 2.20 percent.
The U.S. dollar traded flat against major world currencies, with the euro topping $1.12 and the yen near 121 yen against the greenback.
Wholesale trade data for July will be released at 10 a.m., ET.
On the earnings front, Lululemon Athletica beat estimates by one cent with quarterly profit of 34 cents per share, with revenue and a same store sales increase of six percent also exceeding forecasts.
Finisar and Zumiez are due to report after the bell.
In Europe, the pan-European STOXX 600 index was more than 1 percent lower after weak data from Japan and China. Core machinery orders in Japan fell by 3.6 percent in July, while in China, the producer price index fell by 5.9 percent.
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In oil markets, Brent and crude traded about 0.6 percent higher, around $47.90 and $44.50 a barrel, respectively.
—Reuters and CNBC's Patti Domm and Peter Schacknow contributed to this report.