Also weighing on sentiment earlier was the overnight 6.4 percent plunge in the Shanghai composite, while the Hang Seng lost nearly 1.6 percent. In contrast, Japan's Nikkei 225 rose 1.4 percent.
"From a fundamental standpoint the market's in a wait and see mode and to a large extent remains at the mercy of oil," said Adam Sarhan, CEO of Sarhan Capital. "As goes oil, so goes the other risk assets."
Treasury yields held lower, with the 2-year yield at 0.71 percent and the 10-year yield at 1.70 percent.
The U.S. dollar index traded little changed, with the euro at $1.102 and the yen at 112.92 yen against the greenback.
European stocks pared gains to close but held about 2 percent higher. The STOXX Europe 600 Banks outperformed, briefly trading more than 4 percent higher but still more than 30 percent below its 52-week intraday high.
U.S. stock index futures held mostly higher after January orders for durable goods jumped 4.9 percent, topping expectations with the largest increase since March and reversing December's revised 4.6 percent plunge. Non-defense capital goods orders excluding aircraft, a closely watched proxy for business spending plans, jumped 3.9 percent after tumbling by a revised 3.7 percent in December, Reuters said.
"Favorable technicals and incrementally positive news should lend to perhaps a higher trend today," BMO's Ablin said.
The major U.S. averages staged a massive reversal Wednesday to close higher as some stabilization in oil prices offset declines in financials.
St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, a voting member of the Fed, said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" that he's not too concerned about a global recession but he does see a "lower trend growth rate." He also attributed the recent market volatility to traders factoring in all at once policymakers' projections for four hikes in 2016.
Read MoreCiti: Risk of global recession rising
Separately, Bullard late Wednesday reiterated his opposition to further interest rate hikes given that U.S. inflation expectations have fallen and threaten the U.S. central bank's credibility.
Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart reiterated Fed policy for rate hikes remains data dependent, according to StreetAccount.
San Francisco Fed President John Williams reiterated Thursday he expects the Fed to continue gradually raising interest rates. In a speech aimed at pushing back on political efforts to clamp down on Fed independence by imposing a Taylor-like rule on decisions, Williams said the central bank should avoid tying its policy-making to a single rule and continue to embrace an eclectic approach, according to Reuters.