THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
February 25, 2022 at 12:30 JST
A currency trader watches monitors at the foreign exchange dealing room of the KEB Hana Bank headquarters in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 25, 2022. (AP Photo)
Asian shares rose Friday after U.S. stocks recovered toward the end of a wild trading day, as the world, including President Joe Biden, slapped sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine.
Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 surged 1.4 percent in morning trading to 26,343.02. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 gained 0.5 percent to 7,022.30. South Korea’s Kospi jumped 1.2 percent to 2,681.19. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng added nearly 0.2 percent to 22,941.59, while the Shanghai Composite rose 0.8 percent to 3,456.39.
Japan announced additional sanctions on Russia, including freezing the assets of Russian groups, banks and individuals and suspending exports of semiconductors and other sensitive goods to military-linked organizations in Russia.
Earlier in the week, Japan suspended new issuances and distribution of Russian government bonds in Japan, aimed at reducing funding opportunities for Russia. It also banned trade with the two Ukrainian separatist regions.
Despite uncertainty about the Ukraine, as well as worries about inflation and the COVID-19 omicron variant, the turnaround on Wall Street seemed to buoy Asian shares.
“The market pivot came after the announcement of retaliatory measures towards Russia overnight, with the U.S. implementing export controls to cut Russia off from semiconductors and other advanced technology, including software,” said Yeap Jun Rong, market strategist at IG in Singapore.
Beyond its tragic human toll, the conflict looked set to send prices even higher at gasoline pumps and grocery stores around the world as prices for oil, wheat and corn soared. Russia and Ukraine are major producers not only of energy but also grains and various other commodities.
The higher cost of gas is likely to further damage Asian economies, already reeling from the coronavirus pandemic. Japan imports almost all its energy, although it does not import a significant amount from Russia.
Oil prices on both sides of the Atlantic briefly jumped above $100 per barrel to their highest levels since 2014. But they gave back much of their gains after Biden said the sanctions package is “specifically designed to allow energy payments to continue.” Biden also said he wanted to limit the economic pain for Americans.
Afterward, the price of U.S. oil settled at $92.81, up 71 cents for the day, well below the $100.54 it had touched earlier in the day.
In Asia, benchmark U.S. crude jumped $2.45 to $95.26 a barrel. Brent crude added $2.32 to $101.40 a barrel.
Prices also rose for everything from heating oil to wheat to gasoline. As with stocks, the movements were sharper in Europe than in the U.S. because its economy is more closely tied to Russia and Ukraine. The spot price in Europe for natural gas jumped more than 50 percent.
Higher energy and food prices could amplify worries about inflation, which in January hit its hottest level in the United States in a couple generations, and what the Federal Reserve will do in turn to rein it in.
On Wall Street, the S&P 500 rallied 1.5 percent after erasing an early 2.6 percent loss, while the Nasdaq staged an even bigger comeback to end with a gain of more than 3 percent. The heaviest losses hit stocks in Europe, where officials called Russia’s actions a “brutal act of war,” with the German DAX down 4 percent.
The U.S. Fed looks certain to raise rates for the first time since 2018, with the only question being how quickly and how aggressively it will move, starting next month.
In the past, the Fed has sometimes delayed big policy decisions amid uncertainty over geopolitical events such as the Kosovo war and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, according to Goldman Sachs. But economists at the bank say they still expect the Fed to raise rates steadily at its upcoming meetings.
The Ukraine tensions probably just make it less likely the Fed will start the process with a bigger-than-usual increase in rates, something some Fed officials had recently suggested.
“The Fed may become more worried about the impact on economic growth and will probably want to tread more cautiously,” said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco.
The Fed was already saddled with the delicate task of raising interest rates enough to stamp out high inflation but not so much as to choke the economy into a recession. Strategists at Evercore ISI said that risk still remains and has become even more complicated by the attack on Ukraine, but that it’s “substantially greater in Europe relative to the US.”
Many investors also said that past global events, such as an invasion, have had only short-term effects on markets.
With expectations falling for a bigger-than-usual increase in rates, stocks that tend to benefit the most from low interest rates led the way for indexes to pare their losses through the day. That put the spotlight on big tech stocks; Amazon, Microsoft and Nvidia all rose 4.5 percent or more.
That helped the Nasdaq composite swing from a 3.4 percent loss in the morning to a 3.3 percent gain by the end of the day, rising 436.10 points to 13,473.59. It was a remarkable turnaround after the Nasdaq was on track during the morning to close 20 percent below its record high for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic collapsed the economy in 2020. Expectations for higher interest rates had been beating down high-growth and tech stocks for weeks.
“We’re seeing some attempt at bottom-fishing here in terms of prices,” said Haworth. Such a “buy-the-dip” ethos has proved profitable in the past, but he said he thinks it’s still “a little early. We just have a lot of uncertainty ahead of us.”
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, which isn’t as influenced by big tech stocks, rose a more modest 92.07 points, or 0.3 percent, to 33,223.83. It rallied back from an earlier 859-point loss. The S&P 500 rose 63.20 points to 4,288.70.
Huge swings also rocked the bond market, where yields initially sank as money moved into investments that looked to offer safer returns than stocks. But yields recovered through the day, and the 10-year Treasury yield was 1.96 percent in late trading, close to the 1.97 percent it was at late Wednesday.
In currency trading, the U.S. dollar inched down to 115.46 Japanese yen from 115.48 yen. The euro cost $1.1203, little changed from $1.1204.
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