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For anyone closely watching the financial markets, the calm of Christmas on Tuesday was infused with anxiety.

Traders were bracing for the possibility of bad news on Wednesday, something bigger than just another day of stock market declines: If stocks don’t reverse their recent sell-off, the United States is poised to close the books on the longest bull market on record.

The major benchmark stock indexes are nearing losses of more than 20 percent from their peaks, a bear market’s official marker, which would end a nearly decade-long run of gains. From its high on Sept. 20, the S&P 500 is down 19.7 percent.

The market has reached this point after a rare downward streak this month — stocks fell for four consecutive days through Monday. Investors have looked past evidence of economic strength, however, and toward a potential slowdown in 2019.

Messages from the White House over the long holiday weekend kept investors on edge. President Trump was repeatedly critical of his handpicked Federal Reserve chairman, Jerome H. Powell. In a Twitter post on Monday, he said, “The only problem our economy has is the Fed. They don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders.” Top advisers, however, tamped down talk that the president was considering trying to fire him.

Furthermore, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made an awkward attempt to calm markets with a statement on the health of the financial system. He said on Sunday that he had called bank executives to ensure the markets were functioning properly.

Those worries have joined other concerns, including weakness in global trade and the economic impact of a potentially lengthy government shutdown, to feed the volatility on Wall Street.

On Tuesday, Mr. Trump again expressed dissatisfaction with the Federal Reserve. Asked about Mr. Powell, he told reporters, “Well, we’ll see. They’re raising rates too fast. That’s my opinion.”

But in a seeming recognition that his criticism of the Fed is adding to jitters, the president noted that the recent decision to raise interest rates reflected the strength of the economy. “The fact is, the economy is doing so well that they raised interest rates, and that is a form of safety, in a way,” he said.

And he urged Americans to buy stocks.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity to buy,” he said. “Really, a great opportunity to buy.”

Initial reaction was positive. In Japan, where stocks slumped 5 percent on Tuesday, the market opened on Wednesday 1.5 percent higher.

But some investors remain cautious.

“The market has only gone down basically in a straight line for the last two weeks. It’s healthy to have corrections but to have no reprieves and no rallies during that time isn’t good,” said Matthew Turk, an investor in San Diego who manages his own money.

Mr. Turk said he was “concerned” about what’s in store for the markets on Wednesday. “It’s not healthy. It feels like it’s never-ending right now.”

Charles Campbell, a managing director at MKM Partners, which provides trading services for big money managers like pension funds, hedge funds and mutual funds, said he began communicating with his clients at 6 a.m. on Christmas morning.

He hoped a recent article he had read, published by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, could offer some peace of mind. It suggested that inflation might be falling short of economists’ forecasts, a data point that could persuade the Federal Reserve to keep rates lower for longer.

Mr. Campbell said the Fed’s rate increases had been weighing on the markets. Investors were beginning to fear a slowdown and wanted to see more acknowledgment from the Fed that it would change course in the face of economic weakness.

Mr. Campbell said if the Fed did slow down its rate increases, it could provide relief the markets sorely need.

King Lip, the chief strategist at Baker Avenue Wealth Management, said he was looking toward big companies’ earnings reports as a potential break from the bad news.

Public companies try to avoid surprising investors, offering plenty of hints about how their quarterly results will look, and Mr. Lip said the indications for some of the largest companies were still positive.

“We’ve been following what companies have been telling us over the last few weeks and generally what they’ve been saying has been pretty good,” Mr. Lip said. The coming earnings season in January, he said, could bring a respite from the sell-off: “Even if we dip into bear-market territory, I think it’s going to reverse.”

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