Stock Market

U.S. stocks trade down as Russia-Ukraine conflict sparks nuclear fears

U.S. stock indexes were down Friday afternoon despite February jobs data beating forecasts, as investors instead focused on a worsening conflict between Russia and Ukraine that resulted in a fire at a nuclear power plant earlier in the day.

How are stock indexes trading?
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average

    dropped 236 points, or 0.7%, to about 33,559.

  • S&P 500 index

    fell 38 points, or 0.9%, to 4,325.

  • The Nasdaq Composite Index

    dropped 189 points, or 1.4%, to about 13,349.

On Thursday, the stock market failed to hold on to gains. The Dow closed down 96.69 points, or 0.3%, to 33,794.66; the S&P 500 fell 23.05 points, or 0.5%, ending at 4,363.49; and the Nasdaq Composite ended 214.07 points lower, or 1.6%, finishing at 13,537.94.

What’s driving markets?

Stocks were falling as Russian’s invasion of Ukraine overshadowed positive U.S. employment data for February that was released Friday morning.

February nonfarm payrolls climbed 678,000, versus a forecast of 440,000. U.S. average hourly earnings rose 1 cent to $31.58 and hours worked rose 0.1 hour.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better jobs report and yet the market is really taking it on the chin today,” said Ellen Hazen, chief market strategist at F.L.Putnam, in a phone interview Friday. “The deteriorating situation in Ukraine is driving the markets.”

Investors were focused on news of a now-extinguished fire at a nuclear power plant in the Ukrainian city of Enerhodar that had been shelled by Russian troops. The plant reportedly has six reactors, and three had been offline before the attack, according to Associated Press reports. Russian military has seized the nuclear power plant, which is the biggest in Europe, the AP reported Friday afternoon.

Russia gaining control of the nuclear plant heightens concern that its military will continue to take over other Ukrainian infrastructure such as energy, water, and  telecommunications, Hazen told MarketWatch.

Dow futures plunged about 500 points immediately after the first reports of the nuclear plant fire emerged late Thursday, with the S&P 500 and Nasdaq-100 futures following a similar path.

Ukrainian state emergency services later said on Facebook

that the fire had been in a training building and had been contained. The regional military service said early measurements on Friday showed radiation was “unchanged” and was posing no danger to the population.

“Traders may be unwilling to hold risk over the weekend, given the reality of a hot war in Ukraine and that the situation can move in any direction,” said a Saxo Bank strategy team, in a note to clients.

Investors were flocking to safe-haven assets, such as gold and the dollar, with the euro

plunging 1.4% to $1.0906, a level not seen in nearly two years.

Crude oil prices

remained elevated, with West Texas Intermediate crude for April delivery

up more than 4% at $112.34 a barrel on Friday afternoon.

Which companies are in focus?
  • Airbnb

    said it would suspend operations in Russia and Belarus, according to a tweet from Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky. Airbnb shares were down 5.9% Friday afternoon. Microsoft Corp.

    also said it was suspending new sales and services in Moscow. Its shares were down 1.4%.

  • Travel stocks were weak Friday, with shares of United Airlines

    dropping 8.7%. Shares of Delta Air Lines

    fell 4.9% while American Airlines

    declined 6.8%.

  • The NYSE ARCA exchange has halted trading in the iShares MSCI Russia exchange-traded fund
    according to a press release from BlackRock, the ETF’s issuer.

How are other assets faring?
  • The yield on the 10-year Treasury note TMUBMUSD10Y was down about 9 basis points at around 1.75%. Yields and prices move in opposite directions.

  • The ICE U.S. Dollar Index DXY, a measure of the currency against a basket of six major rivals, was up 0.8%.

  • Gold futures GC00 rose 1.5% to $1,965.20 an ounce.

  • Bitcoin BTCUSD was down 2.9% at $40,894.

  • In European equities, the Stoxx Europe 600 SXXP closed 3.6% lower Friday for a weekly slide of 7%. London’s FTSE 100 UKX fell 3.5% Friday and lost 6.7% for the week. Both indexes saw their largest weekly percentage drop since March 2020, according to Dow Jones Market Data.

  • In Asia, the Shanghai Composite SHCOMP closed down 1% Friday and slipped 0.1% for the week. The Hang Seng Index HSI declined 2.5% in Hong Kong Friday, for a weekly drop of 3.8%. and Japan’s Nikkei 225 NIK gave up 2.2% Friday and slid 1.85% for the week.

-Barbara Kollmeyer contributed to this report.

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