NEW YORK -- Nobody ever said reading the Federal Reserve was easy.
On Wednesday, the Fed appeared to suggest it was closer to taking more steps to help the U.S. economy. Stocks rallied and finished the day well off their lows.
But the prospect of Fed help seemed much less certain Thursday, and stocks fell. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 115.30 points to close at 13,057.46 -- the biggest loss in more than a month and the Dow's fourth straight down day. The S&P 500 and Nasdaq also slid.
James Bullard, president of the Fed's St. Louis bank, told CNBC that the minutes from the July 31-Aug. 1 meeting were "stale" because the economy had picked up since then. If it becomes "a bit stronger," he said, the Fed will hold off.
"He poured some water on the fire of the QE3 talk," said Ryan Detrick of Schaeffer's Investment Research in Cincinnati, using market slang for a Fed program of bond-buying to help the economy.
Another Fed regional official, Chicago President Charles Evans, said in Beijing that he supports further action by the Fed.
Meanwhile, the government reported that claims for unemployment insurance rose last week, the second straight increase.