U.S. stock futures fell Thursday as China's central bank lifted interest rates and on caution ahead of testimony from the chairman of the Federal Reserve.

A downgrade of Dow industrials component Honeywell also may affect sentiment.

Dow Jones futures were recently down 44 points, S&P 500 futures dropped 5.8 points, and Nasdaq 100 futures fell 7.5 points.

On Wednesday, the Dow industrials hit a new six-year high, helped by strong data, indications from the Federal Reserve of a healthy economy and solid earnings from Boeing Co. and PepsiCo.

The Fed's view will draw renewed scrutiny as Chairman Ben Bernanke testifies before the Joint Economic Committee.

The Labor Department said that 315,000 newly laid off workers applied for jobless benefits last week, an increase of 11,000 from the previous week.

The Chinese central bank lifted its key base rate to 5.85 percent, the first rise since October 2004. The dollar fell against the Japanese yen but rose a touch on the euro.

Crude-oil futures continued to edge lower, losing 65 cents to $71.28 a barrel.

Thursday also will see the release of a batch of earnings, including ExxonMobil and Microsoft Corp., with Microsoft's results coming after the close of trading.

A number of leading companies outside the U.S., including Sony, AstraZeneca, Siemens and Alcatel, reported results on Thursday.

Highlights included Sony guiding to an improving fiscal-year net profit, and AstraZeneca lifting its earnings guidance.

Siemens also announced a deal to buy Diagnostics Products Group for $1.86 billion, or a 21 percent premium to Wednesday's close.

Another deal had Carlson Wagonlit Travel agreeing to buy Navigant International for $510 million, or $16.50 a share, a 25 percent premium to Wednesday's close. That deal is contingent on the closing of Accor's 50 percent stake sale in Carlson Wagonlit Travel to Carlson Companies and a J.P. Morgan Chase unit for $465 million.

MeadWestvaco said it's agreed to buy Saint-Gobain Calmar, a maker of plastic dispensing systems, from Saint-Gobain for $710 million in cash, in a deal that's expected to lift its earnings in 2007.

On the analyst front, Dow component Honeywell was downgraded to underweight from neutral by J.P. Morgan on concerns over environmental liabilities.

Overseas, most European markets fell sharply lower, with commodity stocks such as miner BHP Billiton and oil major Royal Dutch Shell among the early losers.

Asian markets had more success, with gains in Japan and South Korea.