NEW YORK — The economy worldwide shook on Thursday after Russia’s attack of Ukraine sent fear coursing through markets and upped the pressure on the high inflation that is cutting into the pocketbooks of millions.
It remains to be seen just how badly the American economy will be affected by Russia’s actions, but oil prices are expected to soar. Already, diesel prices are averaging just under $4 per gallon. That’s squeezing profit from truck drivers’ bottom lines and hurting an already strained supply chain.
On Wall Street, the S&P 500 sank 1.6% in early trading to continue its dismal start of the year. The benchmark is index is now down 13.5% from its record set early this year. Stocks in Europe sank even more after officials called Russia’s moves a “brutal act of war,” with the German DAX down nearly 5%.
Beyond its human toll, the conflict looks set to send prices spiraling even higher at gasoline pumps and grocery stores around the world. Russia and Ukraine are major producers not only of energy products but also grains and various other commodities. War could upend global supplies, as could sanctions brought by the United States and other allies.
Oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic jumped toward or above $100 per barrel to their highest levels since 2014, up more than 6%. Wholesale prices also shot higher for heating oil, wheat and other commodities. The spot price in Europe for natural gas, for which the continent relies on Russia to supply, jumped as much as 31%.
Increases in energy and food prices could amplify worries about inflation, which in January hit its hottest level in the United States in a couple generations, and what the Federal Reserve will do in turn to rein it in. The Fed looks certain to remove the super-low interest rates that investors love, which also helped catapult financial markets and the economy out of their coronavirus-caused plunge. The only question has been how quickly and how aggressively the Fed will move.
Bond yields sank around the world, a sign that investors were scrambling into anything that may offer safer returns than stocks and other riskier bets. The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury fell to 1.89% from 1.97% late Wednesday. Gold also rallied and climbed 2.4%, continuing its strong run on worries about Russia and Ukraine.
On Wall Street, worries about higher interest rates have delivered the heaviest hits on big technology stocks, a turnaround after those companies soared to lead Wall Street out of its coronavirus-caused plummet in 2020.
The Nasdaq composite, which is full of big tech stocks, sank 1.5% and could close more than 20% below its record set on Nov. 19, 2021. If it does, that’s something Wall Street calls a “bear market,” something that hasn’t happened for the Nasdaq since the coronavirus first crashed the global economy.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 647 points, or 2%, to 32,490.
Financial markets are in a “flight to safety and may have to price in slower growth” due to high energy costs, Chris Turner and Francesco Pesole of ING said in a report.
In Brussels, the president of the European Commission said Thursday the 27-nation European Union planned “massive and targeted sanctions” on Russia.
“We will hold President Putin accountable,” Ursula von der Leyen said.
The FTSE 100 in London fell 3.1% after Europe awakened to news of explosions in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, the major city of Kharkiv and other areas. The CAC 40 in Paris lost 4%.
Moscow’s stock exchange briefly suspended trading on all its markets on Thursday morning. After trading resumed, the ruble-denominated MOEX stock index tumbled more than 20% and the dollar-denominated RTS index plunged by more than a third.
Some analysts expect the conflict to push investors out of many tech stocks, with the exception of the cybersecurity sector.
“Growing concern that massive cyber warfare could be on the near-term horizon which would certainly catalyze an increase in spending around preventing sophisticated Russian-based cyber attacks,” analysts with Wedbush Securities wrote in a note to clients.
Putin said Russia had to protect civilians in eastern Ukraine, a claim Washington had predicted he would make to justify an invasion.
President Joe Biden denounced the attack as “unprovoked and unjustified” and said Moscow would be held accountable, which many took to mean Washington and its allies would impose additional sanctions. Putin accused them of ignoring Russia’s demand to prevent Ukraine from joining NATO and to offer Moscow security guarantees.
Washington, Britain, Japan and the EU earlier imposed sanctions on Russian banks, officials and business leaders. Additional options include barring Russia from the global system for bank transactions.
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.