Stocks staged a massive comeback on Thursday afternoon, after falling sharply early in the morning after Russia invaded Ukraine.
The Dow staged a turnaround: The index was down more than 2% at its worst level, before finishing the day up 92 points, or 0.3%. The
initially slipped, before finishing up 1.5%, with the
recouping its earlier sharp declines to close up 3.3%. Technology stocks soared and were responsible for much of the turnaround.
The Nasdaq briefly entered a bear market for the first time since March 12, 2020, with the tech-heavy index down 22% at one point from its November all-time high. The Nasdaq has been the worst performer of the three major U.S. indexes this year, and investors began buying the dip by midday Thursday. Regarding tech stocks, “when there’s blood on the streets it’s almost always time to start buying,” wrote Louis Navellier, founder of Navellier & Associates. “Be greedy when others are fearful, and fearful when others are greedy.”
The Dow, which is comprised more of economically-sensitive, or cyclical stocks, underperformed the Nasdaq Thursday, given broader concerns about economic growth. The Dow’s percent gain was more than 3 percentage points lower than the Nasdaq’s rise.
Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine early Thursday, with cities across the country under fire and reports that hundreds of Ukrainian soldiers have already been killed. European Union diplomat Josep Borrell said the harshest sanctions the bloc has ever implemented could be on the way. U.S. President Joe Biden said earlier this week that, as Russia escalates its aggression, the U.S. will escalate its response, which could mean sanctions on Russian oil.
That’s why WTI crude oil initially rose more than 7% on Thursday, before paring some of those gains, ending the day up 1.3% at just over $93 a barrel. Still, oil buyers have stepped in during recent weeks when the price hit $89, and the price is up 23% this year. Sanctions on Russian oil would severely restrict the global supply, and a soaring oil price adds to the high inflation consumers have already been dealing with, the main concerns for stock investors.
Sanctions on Russian oil would severely restrict the global supply, and a soaring oil price adds to the high inflation consumers have already been dealing with, the main concerns for stock investors.
The price of oil dropped as President Biden spoke Thursday, but he didn’t announce any sanctions on Russian oil.
That’s one reason stocks rebounded. It wasn’t just tech stocks. While most cyclical stocks fell, the Industrial Select Sector SPDR Fund (XLI) managed to gain 1.3%. Stocks have already been under pressure in the last few weeks—the Dow is down 3% in the past month—because of the potential oil sanctions. For now, markets breathed a small sigh of relief when Biden declined to announce oil sanctions.
“We’re seeing sell the rumor buy the news,” said Tom Essaye, founder of Sevens Report Research. “This [Biden speech] could have been more draconian.”
Still, the lingering fear of higher oil prices comes as the Federal Reserve is focused on ratcheting down inflation by lifting interest rates, which it is expected to do several times this year. And inflation has been so high that markets don’t currently expect the Fed to ease its stance on hiking rates very much in light of the Russia issue.
“This conflict [Russia] will likely not result in the Fed delaying rate hikes, so we have the potential for higher inflation, slowing growth due to high commodity prices and a tightening Fed,” Essaye wrote.
And the threat of a surging price of oil could even embolden the Fed to aggressively hike rates. “Higher energy prices will also support sticky inflation which may keep pressure on the Fed to stay on course,” wrote Cliff Hodge, chief investment officer for Cornerstone Wealth.
That’s one argument.
The counterargument is this: surging oil prices could dent consumer spending so much that oil prices—or inflation at large—could in turn decline. While the Fed is still likely to raise rates soon, it could conceivably do so at a slower pace than anticipated.
“The Federal Reserve was very unlikely to do a 50 basis point rate hike for liftoff at its March meeting anyway, but the Russia/Ukraine [conflict] cements liftoff to, at most, 25 basis points,” wrote Jamie Cox, managing partner for Harris Financial Group.
The bond market seems to agree with Cox. The probability of a 50 basis point rate increase in mid-March—the equivalent of two hikes—is at 9.5% Thursday, down from 34% Wednesday, according to CME Group data. The 2-year Treasury yield, which attempts to forecast the benchmark lending rate a couple years from now, fell to 1.57% after having fallen to 1.5% from a 1.61% close Wednesday.
That, Essaye noted, helped stocks turn around.
Overseas, the pan-European Stoxx 600 fell 3.3%, and Tokyo’s
225 slid 1.8%. In Moscow, the Russian benchmark MOEX index fell 15%.
Bitcoin and other digital assets initially sank before rising. The leading cryptocurrency asset was down 9%, before posting a 3% gain, over the last 24 hours.
Here are five stocks on the move Thursday:
(ticker: FIVN) stock rose 2.8% after the company reported a profit of 42 cents a share, beating estimates of 36 cents a share, on sales of $173.6 million, above expectations for $165.4 million.
(W) stock added 4.7% after the company reported a loss of 92 cents a share, wider than the estimate of 70 cents, on sales of $3.25 billion, below expectations for $3.28 billion.
Airline stocks staged a rebound, too, as oil’s rise moderated. Lower oil prices mean lower fuel costs for airlines.
Delta Air lines
(UAL) gained 0.4%, 0.8% and 0.5%, respectively, after having posted losses earlier.