Oil prices top $110 a barrel, but stocks start to recover as Russia batters Ukraine
NEW YORK — Oil prices kept surging Wednesday and topped $110 per barrel as Russia's war continues against Ukraine, but stocks and other markets were showing less fear than a day earlier.
The S&P 500 was 0.9% higher in early trading, while Treasury yields jumped to recover a sliver of their steep losses from the past week. Gold receded, and a measure of nervousness among stock investors on Wall Street was holding relatively steady after swinging sharply in recent days.
Markets have been spinning wildly as investors try, sometimes blindly, to gauge how large an impact two big forces will ultimately have. Most recently, Russia's invasion of Ukraine has caused prices to soar for oil and other commodities where the region is a major producer. On top of that are worries about what upcoming hikes in interest rates by the Federal Reserve and other central banks around the world will do to the economy and inflation.
Fed Chair Jerome Powell said in testimony to Congress on Wednesday that his central bank is ready to raise rates this month, which would be the first increase since 2018. But he also said the attack on Ukraine may have muddied conditions, with its impact on the U.S. economy "highly uncertain."
The Fed is balancing a tightrope where it needs to raise interest rates enough to rein in the highest inflation in generations but not so much that it pushes the economy into a recession. All the while, higher interest rates tend to put downward pressure on stocks and most other investments.
The yield on the 10-year Treasury jumped to 1.79% from 1.72% late Tuesday, while the two-year Treasury leaped even more to 1.43% from 1.31%. Yields, though, remain well below where they were before Russia's invasion. The 10-year yield was above 2% last month, before it plunged as investors plowed into investments seen as safer amid worries about war.
The price of U.S. oil jumped another 6% to $109.73 per barrel, and it climbed as high as $112.51 in the morning to touch its highest level since 2014. Brent crude, the international standard, rose nearly 7% to $112.08 per barrel.
The surging oil prices are likely to push inflation only higher, which means the threat is rising for something investors have not seen for a long time: an economy that's stagnating in the face of high inflation, something called "stagflation."
"The conspiracy of geopolitical uncertainty and stagflation-type impulses is a brutal shock," Tan Boon Heng of Mizuho Bank said in a report.
Oil prices rose despite an agreement by the United States and other major governments in the International Energy Agency to release 60 million barrels from strategic reserves to boost supplies.
"Markets dismissed the notion that 60 million barrels of strategic reserves released will be consequential to the risks of Russian supply jeopardized," said Tan of Mizuho. "Russia pumps more than that in just six days."
A more impactful announcement may come later Wednesday, as the leaders of OPEC and other major oil-producing countries decide whether to increase their own production by 400,000 barrels per day in April.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was 207 points higher, or 0.6%, at 33,502, as of 9:40 a.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 0.3% higher.
Stock markets around the world were mixed. France's CAC 40 rose 0.8%, Germany's DAX was nearly unchanged and Japan's Nikkei 225 fell 1.7%.
Russia's central bank said stock trading on the Moscow exchange would remain closed Wednesday for a third day, though trading of currencies and precious metals would resume for the first time this week.
Late Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced he was joining U.S. allies in closing the country's air space to Russian aircraft, the latest in a set of sanctions to isolate Russia.
But Biden also said in his annual State of the Union speech that he would try to cushion Americans against the impact of higher oil prices. "I will use every tool at our disposal to protect American businesses and consumers," Biden said.