A sharp rise in weekly jobless claims offset strong earnings from a key Wall Street institution and sent stock futures lower.
Concerns about monetary tightening in China also hit investor sentiment before hours, as the dollar rose amid concerns over European currencies.
Goldman Sachs numbers blew past expectations, posting earnings of $8.20 a share that were a full $3 higher than analyst estimates. Shares rose less than 1 percent immediately after the announcement.
New numbers showed China's gross domestic product (GDP) rising 10.7 percent in the first quarter, raising the specter of higher interest rates.
The dollar was stronger, rising 0.4 percent, as the euro fell on concerns over Greece and other European nations.
The Dow is coming off its biggest one-day percentage loss of the new year. But stocks did finish well off their lows, and a few after-the-bell earnings reports may help give investors at least some positive momentum.
Starbucks beat estimates and posted its first quarterly same-store sales gain in two years, and eBay, also beat estimates thanks to a healthy holiday shopping season.
Starbucks shares gained 3.7 percent in premarket trading on its earnings beat as well as news that the coffee retailer is ready to explore the European market. EBay shares picked up nearly 8 percent premarket.
Banks were big gainers in a down market Wednesday following several prominent earnings reports, and the financials will once again be evident in this morning's releases, as the market will hear from Fifth Third and PNC Bank.
Also on the earnings docket: Continental Airlines, Southwest Airlines, UnitedHealth, and Xerox .
The economic calendar includes the weekly report on first-time claims for unemployment benefits, which economists expect to drop to 440,000 from last week's reading of 444,000. That report is out at 8:30 am New York time. At 10 am, there will be the Philadelphia Fed index, forecast to drop to 18.0 for January after a 22.5 reading in December, and the Conference Board's index of leading economic indicators. Economists see the LEI rising 0.7 percent for December after a 0.9 percent increase in November.