Markets fear some of the biggest 2019 risks will come from Washington

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It was Wall Street that scared the markets as storied institutions failed during the financial crisis, and now as stocks fall into bear market territory, it’s Washington that’s getting the blame.

Making matters worse is that when financial markets are in trouble, market pros usually turn to Washington’s lawmakers and regulators for help, and now they find no solace.

The Federal Reserve’s interest rate policy has taken the brunt of criticism for shaking up markets. In a Christmas Eve tweet, President Donald Trump said the Fed is “the only problem” the economy is facing. But strategists say the president too has become a source of volatility, and his once positive impact on stocks has now become mostly a negative.

The Trump administration denied reports that the president wanted to fire Fed Chairman Jerome Powell. Even so, his long-running critique of the Fed chairman has created anxiety for markets and is one of the many reasons Trump too has become a factor for uncertainty.

On Wednesday, White House economic advisor Kevin Hassett said that the jobs of both Powell and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were secure.

“The market can’t have it both ways. It doesn’t like Powell raising rates, and it doesn’t like Trump threatening to remove Powell for raising rates. Nothing makes the market happy at this happiest time of the year,” notes Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at MUFG.

Stocks were volatile again Wednesday, moving sharply higher but the Dow gave back most of 282-point gain by late morning. On Monday, the fell sharply in a half-day session, with the S&P 500joining the Nasdaq in a bear market — a decline of 20 percent or more based on its intraday high. The S&P is now down 14.5 percent in its worst December ever.

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