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US stocks down as 'fiscal cliff' deadline nears

The New York Stock Exchange is pictured on December 20, 2012. US stocks dipped Thursday in the absence of a deal to avert a "fiscal cliff" crisis as an end-of-year deadline crept closer.

US stocks dipped Thursday in the absence of a deal to avert a "fiscal cliff" crisis as an end-of-year deadline crept closer.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average finished the session down 18.28 points (0.14 percent) at 13,096.31.

The broad-market S&P 500 slipped 1.73 points (0.12 percent) at 1,418.10 while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite shed 4.25 points (0.14 percent) at 2,985.91.

Washington has until the end of the month to reach a compromise on how to avert a crisis that could lead to steep tax hikes and stringent budget cuts. But with the clock ticking, a deal has yet to take shape.

Experts say a fall over the so-called "fiscal cliff" could take the world's biggest economy back into recession.

Still, markets appeared to be bolstered by word that the House of Representatives would reconvene on Sunday, raising hopes of an 11th-hour compromise.

President Barack Obama cut short his family Christmas break in Hawaii and returned to the capital, and the Senate was also in session Thursday.

"News that the House will reconvene for a session Sunday night propelled stocks to end well off the lows of the day, erasing an earlier double-digit loss on the Dow that came courtesy of discouraging remarks from Senator Harry Reid and a fall in Consumer Confidence," said analysts with Charles Schwab & Co.

Traders were also digesting a sharp drop in consumer confidence in December, traditionally a key driver of the US economy.

In its monthly survey, the Conference Board said the index now stands at 65.1, compared to the downwardly revised 71.5 in November.

Stocks in focus included US auto giant Ford, which said Thursday it would invest $773 million to expand factories across its home state of Michigan, generating 2,350 new jobs, part of a plan to add 12,000 jobs by 2015. It fell 0.23 percent.

Microsoft edged 0.4 percent higher after announcing it would open six new stores in the United States in 2013.

US-listed shares of Toyota Motor Corporation climbed 2.4 percent. The Japanese automaker said Wednesday that it had agreed to pay about $1.1 billion to settle a class action lawsuit launched by US vehicle owners affected by a series of mass recalls.

Marvell Technology Group dropped 3.5 percent after a jury on Wednesday hit it with a billion-dollar verdict, ruling that the US chip maker "willfully" infringed on patents held by Carnegie Mellon University.

Bond prices rose. The 10-year US Treasury yield fell to 1.72 percent from 1.76 percent late Wednesday, while the 30-year slipped to 2.9 percent from 2.93 percent. Bond prices and yields move inversely.