Stock futures added to losses after the government said weekly jobless claims ramped up more than expected last week.
The Labor Department reported that the number of workers filing jobless claims jumped to 496,000, well ahead of estimates of 455,000. Though the government said some of the increase could have been due to a backlog of claims processing due to inclement East Coast weather, the trend was enough to rattle markets.
Futures had been lower earlier as investors worried about both the state of the economy and the condition of foreign debt.
Ratings agencies indicated they may downgrade Greece's debt, raising concerns about potential defaults and the cost of a bailout.
Coca-Cola Enterprises shares surged 28 percent premarket on news that the bottler will be purchased by Dow component Coca-Cola, which dropped more than 1 percent.
In earnings, retailer Kohl's reported a $1.40 per share profit that appeared to beat analyst expectations, but shares fell nearly 2 percent in premarket trading.
The major averages appear virtually certain to chalk up gains for the month of February, but a third week of gains for the Dow and the S&P 500 and a fourth week of gains for the Nasdaq is still in doubt.
European stocks were virtually flat in mid-morning trading, while Asian markets closed lower.
Two notable economic reports are out at 8:30 am New York time this morning: January durable goods orders, and the Labor Department's weekly read on initial jobless claims. Economists are looking for a 1.5 percent increase in durable goods orders following a 1.0 percent increase in December, and a drop in jobless claims to 463,000 from 470,000 last week.
The EIA will also be out with the weekly natural gas inventory report at 10:30 am.
The Treasury concludes $118 billion in note auctions by selling $32 billion in 7-year notes, with results available shortly after 1 pm.
Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke is back on Capitol Hill, following up his House Financial Services committee testimony on Wednesday with an appearance before the Senate Banking Committee at 9 am. His testimony is expected to be identical.
Two other Fed officials will speak Thursday, with Cleveland Fed President Sandra Pianalto making a breakfast appearance in Dayton, Ohio at 8:35 am, while St. Louis Fed president James Bullard is speaking in Texas at 12:15 pm.
- Written by Peter Schacknow, Senior Producer, CNBC Breaking News Desk.