Oil climbs, stocks yo-yo as US bans Russian crude imports

Team Udayavani, Mar 9, 2022, 8:23 AM IST

Representative Image (Source: Pixabay)

New York: Stocks yo-yoed, oil prices climbed and the price of nickel surged so much that trading for it was shut on Tuesday, as the US banned imports of oil from Russia and the economic fallout from its invasion of Ukraine kept rocking markets. The S&P 500 was 0.2 percent lower in afternoon trading after earlier careening between a loss of 1per cent and a gain of 1.8 percent. Such wide swings have become common as investors struggle to guess how high oil prices will go, and how much they’ll drag on the economy.

Oil has surged on worries global supplies will be disrupted because Russia is one of the world’s largest energy producers. After President Joe Biden’s announcement of the Russian oil ban, the price of a barrel of U.S. crude rose 3.6 percent to settle at USD 123.70. Brent crude, the international standard, rose 3.9 percent to USD 127.98.

But oil prices did not climb as high as they did a day earlier when worries flared about a possible ban and US oil’s price touched USD 130.50. As oil pared its gains following Biden’s announcement, stocks also trimmed their losses. The surprising reactions may have been a result of the big moves that markets already made a day earlier, in anticipation of the announcement, said Nate Thooft, a chief investment officer of multi-asset solutions at Manulife Investment Management.

”You’ve seen the sanctions ramp up, but in the eyes of the market, that’s old news,” he said. ”Now that it’s happened, and a lot of selling has already occurred, the market asks, Who else is going to sell?’ and you have people buy into the market.” He expects the dizzying hour-to-hour swings to continue. Uncertainty is still high, and many investors are still anxious to trade quickly. ”To me, for the traditional investor,” he said, ”this is one of those situations where you buy on weakness and close your eyes.”

The Nasdaq composite was 0.1 percent higher, a day after closing 20 percent below its record high. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 34 points, or 0.1 percent, at 33,782, as of 2:03 pm eastern time. It earlier swung from a loss of 238 points to a gain of 585. Already high oil prices have pushed the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the country to a record high. Biden said he hopes to limit the pain for Americans, but he acknowledged that the ban will increase gasoline prices.

”Defending freedom is going to cost us as well,” he said. Biden also said he understood many European allies may not be able to make similar moves, because they are much more dependent on Russian energy supplies. European nations have said they plan to reduce their reliance on Russia for their energy needs, but filling the void without crippling their economies will likely take some time.

”Markets just need time to digest things and they were credibly shocked when it (the invasion) happened,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco. ”It’s not a surprise that the E.U. is not going in with the U.S. on this, and that is certainly a positive for oil, but we also have to recognize that this is changing rather quickly.”

The US ban on Russian oil imports is the latest move by governments and companies around the world to squeeze Russia’s finances following its attack of Ukraine. All the penalties raise questions about how high prices will go not only for oil but also for natural gas, wheat and other commodities where the region is a major producer. That’s, in turn, adding more pressure to the already high inflation sweeping the world, cranking up its hold on the global economy.

It’s also making an already difficult path for the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world even more treacherous. They’ve been hoping to raise interest rates enough to push down high inflation, but not so much as to cause a recession.

”This geopolitical risk has essentially reduced some of the Fed’s policy risk and they are far less likely to make a policy error this year,” Hooper said. ”The Fed does recognize this risk to US policy and will tread more carefully.” All the uncertainty has led to particularly wild trading for commodities, where challenges for supplies are colliding with strengthening demand as the global economy comes back from its coronavirus-caused shutdown. Trading in nickel was suspended Tuesday on the London Metal Exchange after prices doubled to an unprecedented $100,000 per metric ton.

Nickel is used mostly to produce stainless steel and some alloys, but increasingly it is used in batteries, particularly electric vehicle batteries.

Russia is the world’s third-biggest nickel producer. And the Russian mining company Nornickel is a major supplier of high-grade nickel that is used in electric vehicles.

In Asia, most stock indexes fell, with Japan’s Nikkei 225 down 1.7 percent. European stocks swung from early losses to gains and back, and the French CAC 40 fell 0.3 percent. Treasury yields climbed, with the 10-year Treasury’s yield up to 1.86 percent from 1.75 percent late Monday.

They’ve swung sharply following the invasion of Ukraine. Downward pressure is coming from investors looking for safer places to park their money and higher prices for Treasury’s push down their yields. Pushing upward, meanwhile, is all the pressure from expectations for higher inflation as prices for oil and other commodities soar.

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