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Oil prices surge above $100 a barrel as war on Ukraine rages

UPDATED: Tue., March 1, 2022

In this photo provided by the New York Stock Exchange, Thomas McArdle, right, works at his post on the trading floor Tuesday.  (Associated Press)
In this photo provided by the New York Stock Exchange, Thomas McArdle, right, works at his post on the trading floor Tuesday. (Associated Press)
By Damian J. Troise Associated Press

NEW YORK – Oil prices soared and stocks fell on Wall Street Tuesday as investors shifted more money into ultra-safe U.S. government bonds in response to Russia’s escalating war on Ukraine.

Another day of volatile trading left stocks broadly lower as investors tried to measure how the conflict will impact the global economy.

The S&P 500 index fell 1.5%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 1.8% and the Nasdaq composite slid 1.6%.

The declines add to the market’s losses after a two-month skid for the S&P 500.

The bigger moves came from the markets for oil, agricultural commodities and government bonds. Oil has been a key concern because Russia is one of the world’s largest energy producers.

The latest bump in prices increases pressure on persistently high inflation that threatens households around the world.

U.S. benchmark crude oil jumped 8% to $103.41 per barrel. That’s the biggest single-day jump since May 2020 and the highest price since 2014.

Brent crude, the international standard, surged 7.1% to $104.97.

The crisis in Ukraine prompted an extraordinary meeting of the International Energy Agency’s board, which resulted in all 31 member countries agreeing to release 60 million barrels of oil from their strategic reserves.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also put more pressure on agricultural commodity prices, which were also already getting pushed higher with rising inflation.

Wheat and corn prices rose more than 5% per bushel and are already up more than 20% so far this year. Ukraine is a key exporter of both crops.

“A whole confluence of factors are impacting markets,” said Bill Northey, senior investment director at U.S. Bank Wealth Management. “We see that manifesting not only in (stock) markets right now, which certainly have been more volatile over the course of the past two weeks since the invasion of Ukraine, but we’re also seeing it now across the rates complex as well as the commodities complex.”

Investors continued putting money into bonds, pushing yields lower.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury fell sharply, sliding to 1.73% from 1.83% late Monday.

It is now back to where it was in January.

In February, it had crossed back above 2% for the first time in over two years.

The 10-year Treasury yield is used to set interest rates on mortgages and many other kinds of loans.

The sharp pullback in bond yields weighed on banks. JPMorgan Chase fell 3.8% and Bank of America slid 3.9%.

More than 70% of the stocks in the S&P 500 closed lower, with technology, industrials and communication companies among the biggest drags on the benchmark index. Only the energy sector notched a gain. Occidental Petroleum jumped 7%.

All told, the S&P 500 fell 67.68 points to 4,306.26.

The Dow, which had been down 763 points, ended down 597.65 points to 33,294.95. The Nasdaq slid 218.94 points to 13,532.46.

Small company stocks fared worse than the broader market. The Russell 2000 index slid 39.58 points, or 1.9%, to 2,008.51.

The conflict in Ukraine has shaken markets globally and added to worries about economic growth in the face of rising inflation and plans from central banks to raise interest rates.

The U.S. and its allies have been putting significant pressure on Russia’s financial system as that nation continues its push into Ukraine and its key cities.

The value of the Russian ruble plunged to a record low Monday after Western countries moved to block some Russian banks from a key global payments system.

Also Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department announced more sanctions against Russia’s central bank.

Various companies have announced plans to scale back or pull out from ventures in Russia, or to suspend operations in Ukraine due to the conflict.

The Russian central bank has also raised its key rate to 20% from 9.5% in a desperate attempt to shore up the plummeting ruble and prevent a run on banks. Russia’s stock market remained closed on Tuesday.

Investors are closely monitoring developments in Ukraine while awaiting the latest updates from the Fed and U.S. government on the economy.

Fed Chair Jerome Powell is to testify before Congress later this week and that could offer clues on the path ahead for raising interest rates.

“Investors will certainly be looking for cues around whether the Fed chair is emphasizing their inflation-fighting responsibilities and then also balancing that with the potential impact that this military conflict may have” on inflation, Northey said.

Meanwhile, a report on Friday will also show whether strength in the U.S. jobs market continued in February, allowing the Fed more leeway to raise rates.

Several stocks made big moves on earnings.

Target jumped 9.8% for the biggest gain in the S&P 500 after reporting strong fourth-quarter financial results and saying it will invest up to $5 billion this year in physical stores, remodels and other initiatives.

Workday rose 4.9% after reporting encouraging earnings.

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