Wall Street opened the month on a high note, with each of the benchmark indexes advancing. A stronger-than-expected jobs report and solid fourth-quarter corporate earnings data helped support equities. Nevertheless, concerns about the Russia-Ukraine situation began to worry investors. Natural gas and crude oil prices climbed higher. Throughout much of February, the impending crisis in Eastern Europe seemed to displace thoughts about a likely interest-rate hike from the Federal Reserve in March.
Then on Thursday, February 24, Russia launched attacks against multiple strategic targets in Ukraine. The United States, European Union, United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, Australia, and Japan responded to the Russian incursion by imposing sanctions mostly targeting Russian banks, oligarchs, and high-tech sectors, along with travel restrictions. The conflict shook global financial markets as stocks plunged. Oil and gas prices surged globally amid concerns that heating bills and food prices would skyrocket. Brent crude oil prices reached $100 per barrel. The invasion heightened the pressure on a global economy already reeling from snarled supply chains and the highest inflation in years.
As fighting continued throughout the last days of February, Western countries announced additional sanctions against Russia. Even Switzerland broke from its customary neutral stance to join the European Union in its actions. The United States, United Kingdom, Canada, and European Union blocked several major Russian banks from participating in the SWIFT payment system.
As the ruble fell, Russia’s central bank raised interest rates to 20.0%. Russian President Vladimir Putin put the country’s nuclear arms facilities on high alert. Several global companies cut ties with Russia. Canada banned Russian crude oil imports as U.S energy shares climbed higher. A meeting of delegates from Ukraine and Russia on the last day of February produced no immediate resolutions, particularly toward a cease-fire, as the conflict waged on.
Global stocks took the brunt of the turmoil. Domestically, the benchmark indexes seemed to respond more to a rise in inflationary pressures than the conflict in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, for the second consecutive month, each of the benchmark indexes listed here fell, led by the Dow, followed by the Nasdaq, the S&P 500, and the Global Dow. The small caps of the Russell 2000 were able to post a gain.
Ten-year Treasury yields bounced up and down throughout the month, finally settling at 1.83%. Domestically, crude oil prices advanced, but not at the pace of Brent crude, which rose to $100.99 per barrel. Prices at the pump rose in February as the national average retail price for regular gasoline was $3.530 per gallon on February 21, up from the January 24 price of $3.323 per gallon. Gold prices increased notably, hitting a one-year high after rising to nearly $1,900.00 per ounce.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR IN MARCH
The Federal Open Market Committee meets in March for the first time since January. It is expected that the Committee with raise the federal funds target rate by at least 25 basis points — the first such increase since December 2018. A bump in interest rates, coupled with the Russia-Ukraine conflict, is likely to impact economic and market growth, but to what extent and for how long is difficult to project.
Economic: Based on data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (unemployment, inflation); U.S. Department of Commerce (GDP, corporate profits, retail sales, housing); S&P/Case-Shiller 20-City Composite Index (home prices); Institute for Supply Management (manufacturing/services). Performance: Based on data reported in WSJ Market Data Center (indexes); U.S. Treasury (Treasury yields); U.S. Energy Information Administration/Bloomberg.com Market Data (oil spot price, WTI Cushing, OK); www.goldprice.org (spot gold/silver); Oanda/FX Street (currency exchange rates). News items are based on reports from multiple commonly available international news sources (i.e., wire services) and are independently verified when necessary with secondary sources such as government agencies, corporate press releases, or trade organizations. All information is based on sources deemed reliable, but no warranty or guarantee is made as to its accuracy or completeness. Neither the information nor any opinion expressed herein constitutes a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any securities, and should not be relied on as financial advice. Forecasts are based on current conditions, subject to change, and may not come to pass. U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest. The principal value of Treasury securities and other bonds fluctuates with market conditions. Bonds are subject to inflation, interest-rate, and credit risks. As interest rates rise, bond prices typically fall. A bond sold or redeemed prior to maturity may be subject to loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is a price-weighted index composed of 30 widely traded blue-chip U.S. common stocks. The S&P 500 is a market-cap weighted index composed of the common stocks of 500 largest, publicly traded companies in leading industries of the U.S. economy. The NASDAQ Composite Index is a market-value weighted index of all common stocks listed on the NASDAQ stock exchange. The Russell 2000 is a market-cap weighted index composed of 2,000 U.S. small-cap common stocks. The Global Dow is an equally weighted index of 150 widely traded blue-chip common stocks worldwide. The U.S. Dollar Index is a geometrically weighted index of the value of the U.S. dollar relative to six foreign currencies. Market indexes listed are unmanaged and are not available for direct investment.