U.S. stock index futures were getting battered by a fresh round of layoff announcements by some major companies and mostly dismal news about retail sales.
Dow components AT&T and DuPont both said they would slash thousands of employees; AT&T put its cuts at 12,000, or 4 percent of its workforce, while DuPont said it would cut 2,500.
Pharmaceutical giant and Dow component Merck cut its 2009 earnings forecast due to sales of several of its key medicines. The company said it expected earnings, excluding special items, of $3.15 to $3.30 per share. Analysts polled by Reuters Estimates were expecting $3.52, on average.
Though analysts had been expecting the move, Merck shares fell more than 5 percent in premarket trading.
Elsewhere, telecom Nokia cut its forecast for the second time in three weeks on a belief that the market downturn had accelerated and 2009 would be a difficult year. Investors, though, appeared to like the decreased expectations and sent Nokia shares 4.6 percent higher premarket.
Also, Swiss banking regulator Credit Suisse warned on its fourt-quarter results and said it would cut 5,300 jobs.
The Bank of England cut its prime lending rate a full percentage point, or 100 basis points, to a 57-year low of 2 percent. The European Central Bank also was expected to cut rates.
The move, though, had little effect on US markets, which were indicating lower ahead of anxiety over pending employment numbers and profit warnings from a handful of large companies.
Meanwhile, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is considering whether to ask Congress for the remaining $350 billion of the financial bailout fund. White House aides asked President-elect Barack Obama's transition team about the funds, according to an Obama aide.
And top executives at Citigroup could wave their bonuses this year as the ongoing credit crisis results in intense scrutiny of the once bumper end-of-year payouts, the Financial Times reported.
The state of the economy will remain in focus as investors will get a read on the employment situation, ahead of Friday's all-important Labor Department jobs number. Jobless claims for the week ended Nov 29 are release at 8:30 am New York time.
November's retail results will likely move certain stocks in the sector when they are released later. Analysts on average expect a 2.5 percent decline in November same-store sales, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Also on the economic front, October's factory orders numbers are out at 10 am.
Federal Reserve representatives taking to the stage Thursday include Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart at 9:15 am and Chicago Fed President Charles Evans at 10:45 am.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke will speak on the subject of housing and housing finance at 11:15 am.