Monday February 14th


Stock futures are flat as investors weigh Russia-Ukraine tensions, Fed’s next move

U.S. stock market futures were steady on Monday as investors monitored the tensions between Ukraine and Russia and potential Federal Reserve interest rate hikes. Futures tied to the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 30 points. S&P 500 futures fell 0.2% and Nasdaq 100 futures dipped 0.2%. Futures cut their losses after comments from Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Vladimir Putin in Moscow that suggested Russia would continue diplomatic talks with the West over Ukraine, lowering tensions a bit following a market sell-off Friday. The VanEck Russia ETF rose more than 3% in premarket trading on Monday after losing more than 7.5% on Friday. Investors are grappling with a potential war between Russia and Ukraine. A phone call over the weekend between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, in which Biden attempted to dissuade Putin from attacking Ukraine, failed to achieve a breakthrough. Some airlines have also halted or redirected flights to Ukraine amid the brewing crisis, while the Pentagon ordered the departure of U.S. troops in Ukraine. “The real fear is that China backs Russia and the relationship between China and the U.S. continues to deteriorate,” said Robert Cantwell, chief investment officer at Upholdings. “How it changes the U.S. relationships with the other economic superpowers – that’s what’s really scary and would affect economic outcome.” Investors are also weighing the potential impact of surging inflation on the U.S. economy, as well as the potential measures the Federal Reserve could take to quell the jump in prices. The moves follow a rocky week for stocks, which were pressured by a hot inflation report and fears of a Russian attack on Ukraine. The Dow and S&P 500 fell 1% and 1.8%, respectively, for the week. The tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite slid more than 2%. On Friday, the major averages declined as the White House warned that a war in Ukraine could begin “any day now” and urged Americans there to leave “immediately.” Oil prices jumped Friday, along with traditional safe havens like Treasurys. The Labor Department reported Thursday that inflation in January surged 7.5%, its biggest 12-month gain since 1982. Rate-sensitive tech stocks were hit hard by the report, which briefly sent the 10-year Treasury yield above 2% — the first time since 2019 that the 10-year traded above that level. After the report’s release, St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said that he was open to a 50-basis point rate hike next month, adding that he wanted to see a full percentage point of hikes by July. To be sure, San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly said Sunday that the central bank should take a “measured” approach when raising rates. However, futures trading was still tilting toward a hawkish central bank, with markets pricing in about a 55% chance of seven rate hikes this year, according to the CME. The tension over Ukraine also continued to hit the energy markets, with natural gas futures up nearly 5% early Monday while oil prices also edged higher. “This past week, the primary story was all about inflation,” Cantwell said. “Every single time the inflation number comes out, it keeps surpassing expectations and the while the Fed has signaled that it’s going to raise rates, they haven’t actually raised them. The longer they wait, the faster they’re going to have to raise them.” Economists at Goldman Sachs also raised their Fed forecast to seven hikes for 2022, and said it sees the 10-year hitting 2.25% this year. The firm also lowered its 2022 S&P 500 price target to 4,900 from 5,100. That would represent just a 2.8% return from where the benchmark ended 2021. Goldman said that higher rates will crimp valuations. Earnings are expected to ramp up again this week, with Nvidia, Walmart, Shopify, AMC and more scheduled to report. Shares in Japan led losses in Asia-Pacific on Monday as investors monitored developments from the Covid situation in Hong Kong to tensions between Russia and Ukraine. The Nikkei 225 dropped 2.23% to close at 27,079.59, with shares of conglomerate SoftBank Group falling nearly 4% while the Topix index shed 1.63% to 1,930.65. South Korea’s Kospi declined 1.57% to end its trading day at 2,704.48. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index dipped 1.35%, as of its final hour of trading. The city is currently facing a fifth wave of Covid infections, which its chief executive said has “dealt a heavy blow” to Hong Kong and “overwhelmed” its capacity to handle the situation. Over the weekend, Hong Kong’s chief secretary announced that mainland China will assist the city in areas such as testing and quarantine facilities. Stocks in mainland China closed in negative territory, with the Shanghai composite falling 0.98% to 3,428.88 while the Shenzhen component slipped 0.765% to 13,123.21. Oil steadied on Monday after earlier hitting its highest in more than seven years on fears that a possible Russian invasion of Ukraine could trigger U.S. and European sanctions that would disrupt exports from one of the world’s top producers. Brent crude declined 39 cents, or 0.4%, to $94.06 per barrel, after earlier hitting a peak of $96.16, the highest since October 2014. U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude shed 33 cents, or 0.35%, to trade at $92.77 per barrel, after earlier hitting $94.94, the loftiest since September 2014. Gold prices fell on Monday as the U.S. dollar advanced, with worries around the Russia-Ukraine crisis limiting losses of the safe-haven metal and keeping palladium traders on tenterhooks. Spot gold fell 0.3% to $1,855.40 per ounce by 1211 GMT. On Friday, prices jumped the most since mid-October and hit their highest level since Nov. 19. U.S. gold futures rose 0.8% to $1,857.40.