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Stocks fell Monday morning as investors eyed the escalating threat of Russian invasion in Ukraine alongside ongoing concerns over inflation and an aggressive move toward policy tightening by the Federal Reserve.
The S&P 500 edged lower, extend losses after last week’s roller-coaster sessions on Thursday and Friday. Treasury yields rose and the 10-year yield hovered back near 2%.
Oil prices steadied after a recent run-up as U.S. officials signaled Russia could be nearing the launch of an invasion of Ukraine as soon as this week. National Security adviser Jake Sullivan told CNN on Sunday that “a major military action could begin by Russia in Ukraine any day now,” though the U.S. was still hoping for a diplomatic resolution. The remarks came a day after President Joe Biden held a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin warning that the U.S. and its allies would “impose swift and severe costs” on Russia in the event of a military attack in Ukraine.
West Texas intermediate crude oil futures (CL=F) hovered around $92 to hold near a seven-year high. U.S. crude prices have already jumped more than 20% for the year-to-date. Brent crude (BZ=F), the international standard, drifted near $94 per barrel. With oil prices elevated, the S&P 500 energy sector has far outperformed the other major S&P 500 sectors for the year-to-date, climbing more than 26% versus the broader market’s 7% drop.
Further upside in energy prices in response to the Russia and Ukraine conflict would depend on the timing of any attack and the contours of any U.S. response toward Russia, one of the world’s key oil exporters, some analysts noted.
“It all comes down to how much of their supply is actually impacted by an invasion, and that’s not entirely clear. There are estimates that are saying crude could go to $120 a barrel if we get an invasion,” Rebecca Babin, CIBC Private Wealth U.S. senior energy trader, told Yahoo Finance Live about Brent crude prices. “I say we top out at probably just around $100 because I do think that there will not be as strict of sanctions as the market fears because ultimately, that hurts the US and our allies almost as much as it hurts Russia.”
For equity markets, however, the geopolitical conflict may compound volatility already stirred up by investors jittery over the potential for the Fed to tighten monetary policy aggressively in the near-term. With inflation running at a 40-year high and the labor market on solid ground, investors are largely expecting the Fed to raise benchmark interest rates between five and seven times this year.
Conflict in Ukraine “could actually build the worst-case scenario for the Fed, in the sense that you could see energy prices move higher, [and] if you start to see gasoline prices go north of $4 per gallon, I think that could crimp consumer spending,” Larry Adam, Raymond James chief investment officer, told Yahoo Finance Live. “And then obviously, if energy prices go higher, that could lead to further inflationary pressures. And that could be a double-edged sword that the Fed could be challenged by.”
Later this week, investors are set to receive another batch of earnings results from companies including Airbnb (ABNB), DoorDash (DASH), Walmart (WMT) and Roku (ROKU). Economic data reports will include the Commerce Department’s January retail sales report, which is likely to show sales rebounded in January after dipping in December.
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