US stock futures hold lower after economic data releases

U.S. stock index futures traded lower on Thursday as traders continued to digest comments from Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and economic data.

Two days of testimony this week from a more hawkish and confident Yellen cemented the idea among investors that the U.S. central bank would raise interest rates by midyear if not sooner.

On the data front, housing starts fell 2.6 percent last month. Meanwhile, initial jobless claims came in at 239,000, while the Philadelphia Federal Reserve index reaching its highest level since 1984 at 43.3.

On the earnings front, Alexion Pharma, Encana and TransCanada are among the major companies that reported before the bell. Digital Realty Trust, Republic Services and TrueCar are all due to report after the market close.

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In Europe, the pan-European Stoxx 600 index was around 0.4 percent lower on Thursday. In Asia, the Shanghai Composite in China closed 0.51 percent higher, while the Nikkei in Japan closed 0.47 percent lower.

In oil markets, Brent crude traded at $56.05 a barrel on Thursday, up 0.54 percent, while U.S. crude was around $53.40 a barrel, up 0.55 percent.

Significant gains in oil prices appeared to be capped by rising fuel inventories and crude production levels in the U.S.

—CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report