The "fiscal cliff" took the stock market on a roller coaster Thursday, yanking stocks back and forth throughout the day.

In the end, U.S. stocks closed lower for the fourth session in a row, sending the message that traders think the budget standoff is far from solved.

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Stocks opened by hopping between small gains and losses, pulled up by news about fewer unemployment claims and down by the continuing budget deal saga in Washington.

Stocks turned decisively downward at mid-morning, after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he feared the government would miss the Monday night deadline for working out a budget compromise.

Both Republicans and Democrats demanded that the other side take the initiative in compromising. The Dow Jones industrial average fell as much as 150 points, more than 1 percent.

Then, just as the Dow appeared headed toward a triple-digit loss, it whipsawed higher after House leaders announced in the late afternoon that the chamber would meet Sunday evening to work on the budget.

At the close, stocks trimmed their losses but still closed lower. The Dow finished down 18.28 points to 13,096.31. The Standard & Poor's 500 index fell 0.12 percent to 1,418.10. The Nasdaq composite index dropped 0.14 percent to 2,985.91.