Market Coverage: Friday February 18 Yahoo Finance

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Stocks traded mixed on Friday to add to losses after a sell-off on Thursday, with geopolitical tensions ramping further to contribute to a further risk-off tone in markets.

The S&P 500 opened slightly higher to steady after sinking a day earlier. The index dropped more than 2% on Thursday, while the Dow dropped 1.8% for its worst day in nearly three months. The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX), or “fear gauge,” spiked back above 28 Friday morning.

The souring in sentiment came after U.S. officials said they estimated Russia had built up around 190,000 military personnel near Ukraine, raising the specter of a near-term attack. And this came a day after President Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday that the threat of a Russian invasion of Ukraine was “very high” in the coming days. Crude oil prices fell Friday morning to pause a recent run-up even as Russia-Ukraine tensions resurged.

“The two things we’re most concerned about right now in terms of headwinds for the market and causes for volatility, are clearly tensions with Russia-Ukraine … and then clearly, our concern over not just inflation but what the monetary policy response to that inflation is going to be,” Art Hogan, National chief market strategist, told Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “And those headlines have changed quite a bit too.”

“We’ve gone from thinking the Fed would be very, very deliberate in their actions starting in March and telegraph everything … to having some outliers on the committee talking about being very aggressive, a lot more aggressive than what’s priced into the market,” he added. “Every day the story changes a bit.”

Treasury yields fell further after dropping across the curve on Thursday, with the 10-year yield holding back below 2%. This came as markets priced in a lower probability of a front-loaded 50 basis-point interest rate hike from the Federal Reserve in March, with investors looking past hawkish commentary from St. Louis Fed President James Bullard calling for a more aggressive path on interest rates.

Other strategists also underscored the dual concerns around Russia and Ukraine and on the Fed for markets in the near-term.

“Really, it’s about Russia and Ukraine, and it’s about the Fed. And on the geopolitical side, I think the challenge for investors is that geopolitical risk is just really hard to weigh,” James Liu, Clearnomics founder and CEO, told Yahoo Finance Live on Thursday. “Our view is that we’re not yet in a situation where it makes sense to make any real portfolio moves based on this. I mean, first of all, diplomatic channels are still open, so the situation is still evolving on a regular basis.”

“The challenge is that even if the worst case scenario were to happen, it’s hard to gauge exactly what the impact long-term would be on the markets,” he added.

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