What war in Ukraine would mean for markets as Putin orders Russian troops to separatist regions

What war in Ukraine would mean for markets as Putin orders Russian troops to separatist regions

Escalating tensions over Ukraine continued to rattle markets Monday night.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday said he would recognize the independence of two Russian-led breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine and ordered troops to the separatist territory, moves that could result in additional sanctions against Moscow and stoked fears that an invasion could soon take place.

Western leaders “will see this as the crossing of a clear red line…bringing closer the point at which the sanctions hammer will fall,” said Claus Vistesen, chief eurozone economist at Pantheon Macroeconomics, in a note. “If it does, it will fall hard, sending energy prices higher and equities lower.”

U.S. markets were closed Monday for the Presidents Day holiday, while stocks in Europe and Asia ended lower ahead of Russia’s latest moves. U.S. stock-index futures traded sharply lower Monday night, with Dow futures
YM00,
-0.29%

down more than 400 points, or 1.2% while S&P 500 futures
ES00,
-0.19%

slumped 1.5%.

Read more: Dow futures sink nearly 500 points as Putin orders deployment of troops to eastern Ukraine

Also: Oil rises and natural gas surges 8% as Russia orders troops to Ukraine

And: Gold rallies to highs not seen in more than a year as Russia’s Putin orders forces to breakaway regions in Ukraine

The White House issued an executive order restricting investment and trade in those regions, while additional measures — likely sanctions — were expected to be announced Tuesday. Those sanctions would be separate from what the administration had prepared in the event of a Russian invasion, the Associated Press reported, citing a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Headline-driven volatility

U.S. investors may have been reluctant to hold on to assets perceived as risky heading into a three-day holiday weekend.

Read: Here’s the technology being used to watch Russian troops as Ukraine invasion fears linger

U.S. stocks on Friday logged weekly losses for the second week in a row, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average
DJIA,
-0.68%

falling 1.9%, the S&P 500
SPX,
-0.72%

losing 1.6% and the Nasdaq Composite
COMP,
-1.23%

declining 1.8%. Treasury yields
TMUBMUSD10Y,
1.943%

fell as investors sought out assets viewed as havens during periods of geopolitical uncertainty and the desire for safety also lifted gold
GC00,
-0.24%
.

Oil last week failed to get a lift from Ukraine tensions, though invasion fears were credited the previous week for driving both the U.S.
CL.1,
+3.49%

CL00,
+3.67%

and global
BRN00,
+2.55%

benchmarks to seven-year highs not far below the $100-a-barrel threshold. Instead, prospects of a revived Iran nuclear accord, which could eventually lift U.S. sanctions on the country’s crude exports, prompted profit-taking as crude futures ended a streak of eight weekly gains.

In European trade Monday, Brent crude,
BRN00,
+2.55%
,
the global benchmark, rose 2% to settle at $95.39 a barrel on ICE Futures Europe.

Oil futures were higher on Monday night, with the U.S. benchmark up 2.5% above $92 a barrel. Gold, a traditional safe haven, built on gains scored last week, rising in electronic trade to a level last seen in January 2021.

Energy shock?

So what happens if the situation on the ground in Ukraine continues to escalate?

For investors, the focus would be on energy prices, with analysts warning that crude oil remains likely to shoot above $100 a barrel.

“Biden remains adamant that Ukraine will be defended, and that sanctions such as blocking energy sales will be deployed as a counter to Russia’s militant action. With oil prices already at multiyear highs due to misaligned supply/demand dynamics, further tension could mean more upside potentially (north of $100) that could negatively impact both the U.S. and global economy,” said Larry Adam, chief investment officer for the Private Client Group at Raymond James, in a Friday note.

“While we remain optimistic that a diplomatic resolution and/or de-escalation (base case) will ultimately result, this is not a certainty with tensions high. A favorable outcome would reduce the current geopolitical risk premium built into oil prices (at least $5-$10) and return oil closer to our year-end target of $80,” he wrote.

Beyond crude oil, Russia’s role as a key supplier of natural gas to Western Europe could send prices in the region soaring. Overall, spiking energy prices in Europe and around the world would be the most likely way a Russian invasion would stoke volatility across financial markets, analysts said.

Bread basket

Not everyone is convinced significant supply disruptions, particularly for crude oil, would be inevitable.

“We suspect that neither the West or Russia has much appetite for curtailing the trade in energy, and that prices could fall back fairly swiftly,” wrote commodities analysts at Capital Economics, in a note.

“By contrast, the West has sanctioned Russia’s metal producers before and, with most of Russia’s grain exports leaving from Black Sea ports, the risk of supply disruption there is high,” they said.

Indeed, analysts have warned that wheat prices
W00,
+2.15%
,
in particular, could see further gains in the event of an invasion. Both Russia and Ukraine are major exporters of the grain. Wheat was up 2.3% after jumping to a nearly one-month high, while
C00,
+1.26%

and soybean futures
S00,
+0.70%

also rallied in electronic trade Monday night.

In depth: Why the Russia-Ukraine crisis may make food-price inflation even worse

Stocks and geopolitics

For the most part, equity analysts continue to play down the potential for a Ukraine conflict to have more than a passing impact on U.S. equities.

Despite near-term volatility in the wake of geopolitical events over the past three decades, ranging from terrorist attacks to the start of wars, stocks have tended to bounce back relatively quickly, Adam noted, rallying 4.6% on average in the six months following such crises dating back to 1990 and rising 81% of the time.

“In general, Fed policy and economic conditions tend be the more long-term drivers of the economy and financial markets rather than isolated geopolitical events,” he said.

Still the economic and market ramifications of an invasion “may pose a near-term downside risk to the global economy and cause market volatility to persist,” he said.

Mark Hulbert: This is what investment research suggests we do amid geopolitical crises

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