Stocks swing, Russian ruble plunges as West ratchets up sanctions over Ukraine invasion

Markets quivered Monday amid worries about how high oil prices will go and how badly the global economy will get hit after the U.S. and allies upped the financial pressure on Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.

Stocks swung down, up and down again, while investors herded into gold in search of safety and the value of the Russian ruble plunged to a record low.

The S&P 500 was down as much as 1.6 per cent but recouped much of its losses to end down 0.2 per cent. Oil prices rose sharply amid concerns about what will happen to crude supplies. Treasury yields fell.

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Ruble in trouble: Russian currency plummets amid Ukraine war sanctions

The Biden administration said Germany, France, the U.K., Italy, Japan, European Union and others will join the U.S. in hitting Russia’s central bank, which said the Moscow stock exchange would remain closed Monday.

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Oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic climbed more than 4 per cent amid concerns about what the worsening tensions will do to crude supplies because Russia is one of the world’s largest energy producers. Prices also rose for natural gas, wheat and other commodities, adding further pressure to the already high inflation squeezing wallets around the world.

In search of safer returns, investors plowed into U.S. government bonds, which drove the yield of the 10-year Treasury down 0.11 percentage points to 1.87 per cent, on pace for one of its sharpest drops since the Omicron coronavirus variant first rattled investors. Gold rose 1.6 per cent.

They’re just the latest severe swings for markets, which were relaxing in relief just on Friday, in part on thoughts that sanctions against Russia at the time weren’t as severe as they could have been. More sharp turns are likely ahead given all the uncertainty about the war.

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: Stock markets react to Russian invasion'

Russia-Ukraine conflict: Stock markets react to Russian invasion

Russia-Ukraine conflict: Stock markets react to Russian invasion

President Joe Biden said last week he wants to limit the pain for U.S. households at the gasoline pump, which some investors took as reluctance to go hard after Russia’s oil exports. White House press secretary Jen Psaki echoed those comments in an interview with ABC over the weekend, saying the White House wants to minimize the effects on global markets. But she also said “energy sanctions are certainly on the table” still.

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The pressure on Russia isn’t coming only from governments. London-based energy giant BP said Sunday it would dump its investment in Rosneft, a Russian energy company. BP has held a nearly 20 per cent stake in Rosneft since 2013, and its shares listed in London fell five per cent.

European stocks broadly have fallen more sharply than their U.S. counterparts given how much more closely tied Europe’s economy is to Russia and Ukraine. Germany’s DAX dropped 1.8 per cent, France’s CAC 40 fell 2.5 per cent and the FTSE 100 in London lost 1.3 per cent.

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Portfolio panic: How worried should I be about the stock market’s downturn?

In the U.S., the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 304 points, or 0.9 per cent, at 33,754, as of 10:41 a.m. Eastern time. The Nasdaq composite was 0.1% lower after erasing an earlier loss of one per cent.

Markets had already been on edge before Russia’s invasion, worried about how the Federal Reserve looks certain to raise interest rates next month for the first time since 2018. Such a move would help rein in the highest inflation U.S. households have seen in generations, but it would also put downward pressure on all kinds of investments. If the Fed raises rates too high, it also risks causing a recession.

Financial analysts say wars and other such scary geopolitical events tend to have only a temporary effect on markets, perhaps lasting weeks or months. But in the moment, fear is rising.

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Putin’s order that Russian nuclear weapons stand at increased readiness to launch ratcheted up tensions with Europe and the United States and revived dormant fears from the Cold War era. A measure of how worried Wall Street investors are about upcoming swings in S&P 500 prices rose nearly 11 per cent.

Click to play video: 'Russia-Ukraine conflict: Crisis adds to supply chain stress'

Russia-Ukraine conflict: Crisis adds to supply chain stress

Russia-Ukraine conflict: Crisis adds to supply chain stress

The Russian central bank raised its key rate to 20 per cent from 9.5 per cent in a desperate attempt to shore up the plummeting ruble and prevent a run on banks. That brought a temporary reprieve for the Russian currency.

The ruble plunged at one point plunged below 0.9 cents before climbing back to a shade above a penny, though still down nearly 15%. At the start of the year, a ruble was worth 1.33 cents.

The ruble had plunged more than 30% after the move to block Russian banks from the SWIFT payments system. Among other things, the sanctions are meant to crimp the Russian central bank’s access to over $600 billion in reserves and hinder its ability to support the ruble.

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A weaker ruble is expected to cause inflation to surge, potentially angering Russians whose budgets will be stretched by soaring prices. It will also add to strains across Russia’s financial systems.

© 2022 The Canadian Press