Stock futures looked for direction amid fresh reminders of economic weakness and an earnings report from Wal-Mart that sent mixed signals.
Wall Street was poised for a flat to slightly lower open after new jobless claims sprinted above 500,000 for the first time in seven years.
Also, Weaker-than-expected guidance from retail bellwether Wal-Mart Stores initially sent its shares as well as index futures lower, but an overall positive report changed that sentiment
Still, there was continuing reason for concern about the economy and its impact on stocks.
Declines in the major indexes are normal for the period of the market cycle, Charles Lemonides, founder & chief investment officer of ValueWorks, told CNBC.
"You don't get a decline like that and a bounce without getting a retest of the low," he said.
Wal-Mart beat earnings estimates even as it lowered its fourth-quarter earnings forecast before of the bell, sending its shares 1.7 percent higher in pre-market trading. Its profit guidance for continuing operations is now between $1.03 and $1.07 a share, which is lower that the consensus estimate of $1.11.
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The Senate Banking Committee will give fresh guidance on how the $700 billion bailout package will be used at 10 am. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson confirmed on Wednesday that the original plan to buy troubled mortgage assets was being refocused to include consumer debt.
Meanwhile, a U.S. Congressional panel is calling on the managers of five of the world's most powerful hedge funds in an attempt to shed light the secretive industry.
Investors will get a fresh take on the already worsening employment situation when jobless claims numbers for the week ended Nov. 8 are released at 8:30 am New York time. September's trade deficit data is released at the same time.
Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser will be taking to the stage at midday in Pittsburgh to speak about the economic outlook. And President Bush will speak at 1:55 pm.
In the housing sector, the number of foreclosures rose by 25 percent in October, compared to a year earlier, according to a monthly report by RealtyTrac.
In corporate news, Citigroup is in talks to buyChevy Chase Bank, the Wall Street Journal said. Some directors on Citigroup's board are considering trying to replace chairman Win Bischoff, the paper said. Citi shares gained 1.7 percent premarket.
And Intelslashed its fourth-quarter revenue forecast by $1 billion after the bell Wednesday, citing weak global demand for its microchips. Intel shares tumbled 5.6 percent premarket.